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Fundraising letter says send donations to Gov. Otter - at Idaho Freedom Foundation

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa opens a fundraising letter from the Idaho Freedom Foundation that was addressed to him, but sent to the Spokesman-Review's Boise bureau. (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa opens a fundraising letter from the Idaho Freedom Foundation that was addressed to him, but sent to the Spokesman-Review's Boise bureau. (Betsy Russell)

Of all the odd things to find in my mailbox over the weekend, there was a letter from Gov. Butch Otter, addressed to Ben Ysursa, who happens to be Idaho's secretary of state, but at my address. Since it's a federal crime to open someone else's mail, I took the letter to Ysursa's office so he could open it, and he said he got one at his home as well. It was a membership pitch from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, asking people to send from $50 to $5,000 to become "charter members" of the group - and to send the money to Gov. Butch Otter, care of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Ysursa said, "As you get into it, it's pretty clear it's not the state of Idaho that's doing this, it's the Freedom Foundation. I saw it and opened it up, and was able to discern that it was a membership drive letter for the Freedom Foundation." Ysursa, who's in charge of enforcing campaign disclosure and lobbying reporting laws, said, "Over the years, Gov. Otter and other elected officials at times get asked to sign letters of endorsement for various interests. I don't see where it violates anything - it's just kind of a judgment call by the elected official."

The foundation is listed on the back of the envelope with its P.O. box return address, but on the front of the envelope, the only return address, below Otter's signature, is, "C.L. 'Butch' Otter, Governor." It also states, on the front of the envelope, "IMPORTANT OBAMACARE LAWSUIT UPDATE." In the letter, Otter writes, "Last year we worked together to pass the Idaho Health Freedom Act, and I look forward to working with the Idaho Freedom Foundation in the future to ensure that we continue protecting liberty and the free market." He adds, "I hope you will join the Idaho Freedom Foundation as a Charter Member and let your voice be heard."

Wayne Hoffman, head of the Freedom Foundation, said the use of the governor's name - including on the donation form ("To: GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER, Idaho Freedom Foundation, PO Box 2801") and as the addressee, care of the Freedom Foundation, for donations people may send, is a "standard thing." The Freedom Foundation did the same thing last year when it sent out a fundraising letter endorsed by former Idaho Sen. Steve Symms, Hoffman said. The foundation, which doesn't disclose its donors, is "probably up to 500 donors" at this point, Hoffman said. With the new mailing, which went to tens of thousands of people statewide, "I expect we'll generate thousands of new members."

The donations won't actually go to Otter; they'll go to the Freedom Foundation. Hoffman said he doesn't consider the labeling misleading. "It's a very normal practice," he said. "People understand that Butch is supporting our efforts and he's put his name behind a good organization that is supporting the principles that he's fought long and hard for." Otter has no affiliation with the foundation, Hoffman said, other than that he donated a belt buckle at the group's annual banquet in May and he and Tom Luna received an award from the group for the "Students Come First" school reform initiative.

Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, said, "I can confirm that the governor did approve that letter." The group asked because they share Otter's concern "over the issue of the health care mandate," he said. "We read and approved the letter that went out. That was the extent of our involvement in it."

As to how the letter made its way to my mailbox, Hoffman cited a database glitch.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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