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Eye On Boise

Hoffman: ‘A rising leader’

Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, discusses his disenchantment with the mainstream media and his role as a political activist in an article by AP reporter John Miller, in which Hoffman refuses to disclose how his group is funded; click below to read the full article. The article says, "Idaho conservatives say Hoffman is a rising leader of the GOP's libertarian right."

Ex-newsman recasts himself as conservative player
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former reporter who quit newspapers in 2005 is now a conservative political activist, working behind the scenes at the Idaho Capitol to sway lawmakers on everything from health care reform to government funding of political parties.

Wayne Hoffman organized the Idaho Freedom Foundation about a year ago, a think-tank affiliated with a national limited-government group.

Last year, Hoffman barraged local governments across the state with public records requests, seeking everything from mayors' salaries to city council spending on office Christmas parties. The results are now posted on his Web site.

As a nonprofit education and research organization, however, Hoffman's group is forbidden by the Internal Revenue Service from "attempting to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities."

So Hoffman, a 38-year-old Florida native and father of two who's also the Canyon County Republican Party vice chairman, was careful during the 2010 Legislature — before bashing or backing a bill — to provide this disclaimer: His group is nonpartisan; he wasn't officially taking sides.

He only registers as a lobbyist because Idaho requires those paid to "develop or maintain relationships" with legislative or executive branch officials to do so, Hoffman said.

"We don't take legislators to lunch," he said. "I've never contacted them to say, 'You should kill this bill.' "

Even so, many Idaho lawmakers think what Hoffman does makes him a lobbyist.

"He is trying to mold public opinion," said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. "There's no way to get around it. That's lobbying."

To get the Legislature to block a 1 percent pension payment increase for Idaho government retirees, for instance, Hoffman distributed a report outlining the state pension fund's $3 billion unfunded liability in 2008.

The House voted against the increase, though the Senate refused to go along.

Hoffman, who until 2009 was a spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, was more successful promoting the Idaho Health Freedom Act, to sue the federal government over health insurance mandates passed by Congress. Idaho has already sued, along with a dozen other states.

Another measure championed by Hoffman — and signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter — dumped a 34-year-old checkoff on Idaho state tax forms that let residents direct some of their tax payments to political parties. Government should get out of financing elections, Hoffman argued.

And late in the 2010 session, he contacted Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, to express concerns over a bill aimed at bolstering Idaho's immunization rates. It was later altered more to Hoffman's liking.

"He e-mailed me about the bill, and told me he didn't like it," said Lodge, R-Huston.

Hoffman's group is linked to the conservative State Policy Network, a Richmond, Calif.-based outfit whose mission is to help free-market think tanks expand their sphere of influence. The group didn't return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

As a nonprofit, Hoffman doesn't have to disclose his funding sources — the U.S. Supreme Court says it's a free-speech issue.

"There's nothing you can ask me about funding I'll answer," Hoffman said.

This lack of transparency, however, has some of Idaho's minority Democrats suspicious.

"I've been concerned we have no countervailing force on the center or the left," said Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise. "Clearly he's well funded. It's formidable."

Idaho conservatives say Hoffman is a rising leader of the GOP's libertarian right. He organized a January tea party rally in Boise and helped bring libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman Ron Paul to town in March.

Pam Stout, a leader of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, relies on Hoffman's regular Idaho Freedom Foundation e-mails to stay abreast of what's happening in Idaho government.

"I think we're going to take our signals from people like... Wayne," Stout said. "We definitely need that information."

Hoffman arrived in Idaho in 1995 to work at a southern Idaho radio station, later jumping to the South Idaho Press in Burley, a five-day-a-week newspaper that's since folded. He shifted to the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa until 2001, before a five-year stint at the Idaho Statesman, where he covered state government.

He left journalism disenchanted.

"The priority these days is making sure the space gets filled," he said.

Still, Hoffman has gotten back into the news business, writing opinion pieces for Idaho newspapers and running the Web site where he paid two full-time reporters to cover the Legislature.

"We recognize that there are non-consumers of news," he said. "There are people out there who are in the market to get information about the halls of power, but they don't trust the mainstream media."


On the Net:

Idaho Freedom Foundation Web site:

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.