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Eye On Boise

Tue., Feb. 12, 2013, 12:07 p.m.

Freedom Foundation money pitch to lawmakers raises ethics concern

This booklet about government waste was distributed to all Idaho lawmakers by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, along with a pitch for donations. (Betsy Russell)
This booklet about government waste was distributed to all Idaho lawmakers by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, along with a pitch for donations. (Betsy Russell)

When the Idaho Freedom Foundation distributed its “2013 Idaho Report on Government Waste” to every lawmaker, complete with a color drawing of a cigar-smoking pig in sunglasses raking in gambling-table winnings labeled “TAXES” on the cover, it had a little extra tucked inside: A pitch for money. A donation envelope invited recipients to “support Idaho Freedom Foundation in its quest for limited, accountable government and individual freedom” by making a gift of $5,000 $1,000, $500, or $100, with the $100 level identified as a one-time payment that would make the giver a “Friend of Freedom.” There was also a space to list the lawmaker-donor’s credit card information.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, who noted that House members received the booklet and donations pitch in their legislative mailboxes, said, “The mailing privileges that we have should not be used for fundraising in any way, shape or form.” He said, “I don’t think there’s a rule that addresses that,” but said, “I think as a general rule of thumb that it is inappropriate.” Bedke said he planned to speak to the group about the issue.

“It was a solicitation for money attached to it,” he said, adding, “It was brought to my attention.”

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, was among those concerned about the pitch for donations. “They grade us at the end of the year based on the votes that we make,” he said. “At the same time we get this book, we have an opportunity to donate to the Freedom Foundation. You could almost read into it, we all get graded. So is there some kind of an undercurrent there, some kind of a pressure, that we should donate to them in recognition that we get graded by them? It’s a little disturbing.”

Eskridge said, “As a general practice, I don’t take contributions to my campaign during the session. … I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. We’re voting on bills, we’re doing legislation. This kind of hits me the same way. It may be legal, but is it really appropriate?”

Bedke said, “Fundraising activities during the session have fallen out of favor, I guess, for good reason.” Legislative campaign fundraising isn’t prohibited during the session, but Bedke said it’s become less common as lawmakers focus more on ethics. This year, all lawmakers went through a half day of mandatory ethics training during the first week of the legislative session.  “The different caucuses have sponsored fundraisers during the session, but we don’t now,” Bedke said. “My goal is to get everybody to step back and take a look at what they’re doing.”

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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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