Posts tagged: Idaho Freedom Foundation
The Idaho Freedom Foundation now has six billboards around the state attacking lawmakers who voted in favor of setting up a state-based health insurance exchange, rather than allowing the federal government to operate an exchange for Idaho. They’ve also updated the look of the first ones they posted, opting for a bright-red color scheme and photos of the legislators they’re excoriating. “We’ve improved the look, while putting them up in more places,” the foundation reported on its website. Foundation head Wayne Hoffman said there are now two signs in Idaho Falls, and one each in Rexburg, Burley, Mountain Home and Coeur d’Alene.
“They didn’t need to implement OBAMACARE,” the billboards say above the lawmakers’ names and photos, along with a statement by their photos that each one of them “voted FOR IT.” Across the bottom, the billboards say, “Repeal the State Insurance Exchange in 2014!” One pictures and targets Gov. Butch Otter, saying, “Your Governor and some state legislators implemented OBAMACARE.”
Four Kootenai County lawmakers are pictured on the billboard near Coeur d’Alene, which is along I-90 at Pleasant View in Post Falls, all Republicans: Reps. Luke Malek, Frank Henderson, Ed Morse and John Goedde. They don’t seem too upset at having their photos on billboards in their home turf. “I think the people in my district understand the issue,” Malek said. Morse said, “I represent the interests of the citizens in my district, not Wayne Hoffman.”
An email from the Idaho Freedom Foundation arrived in the inbox of nearly every Idaho legislator last week touting a controversial and unsuccessful bill to criminalize Idaho police officers who enforce federal gun laws that might pass in the future as a paragon of “constitutional principles.” Last Tuesday’s mass email came just as the bill’s sponsor, embattled state Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, hit the national news with his claims that a local sheriff’s move to revoke his concealed weapons permit over an undisclosed past assault with intent to commit rape case really was retaliation for his bill, and his criticism of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association for not backing it.
Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman says the timing of the email was coincidental, and had nothing to do with Patterson’s case. “We just thought it was an interesting little tidbit to share,” he said.
The email, which went to a list of close to 5,000 addresses, including more than 150 Idaho legislative addresses, noted that the Freedom Foundation scores bills and tracks lawmakers’ voting records on them. After praising HB 219 as an example of legislation advancing “constitutional principles,” the email lists the foundation’s top 10 highest rated Idaho House members in the category of constitutional principles. Patterson is tied for 7th on the list. Senate members aren’t mentioned.
Hoffman said the Freedom Foundation isn’t involving itself in Patterson’s case. “It’s not our deal. We don’t have a dog in that fight,” he said. “That’s about politics, not public policy. That’s not an issue in which we engage.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Billboards bashing Idaho legislators for their votes on a state insurance exchange have begun popping up in their legislative districts. Idaho Freedom Foundation chief Wayne Hoffman says the signs are part of his group’s lobbying campaign to get Idaho’s exchange repealed in the legislative session that starts in January, but others say the effort appears aimed at Idaho’s upcoming 2014 elections, in which every seat in the Idaho Legislature will be on the ballot.
“That looks a lot more like campaigning than lobbying to me,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “It’s not a traditional way of lobbying the Legislature to use billboards – in fact, I’m hard-pressed to give an example of that.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who is among those targeted by name on the signs, said he views his local billboard – which is right near the hospital where he practices medicine – as an “effort to try to gin up a political opponent” for him in May’s GOP primary. “I think that’s what it’s designed to do, to be very blunt about it,” he said. “It’s political advertising.”
Hoffman, whose organization, a tax-exempt charity, is prohibited by law from engaging in campaigning, said, “We don’t get involved in elections – this has nothing to do with elections. It has to do with public policy.” He added, “They are a vehicle for lobbying lawmakers as well as the general public on an issue that will be before the Legislature in the 2014 legislative session.” Wood countered, “They push that envelope all the time.”
Two of the billboards have gone up so far; Hoffman said more are in the works. The first, in Burley, targets Wood, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. The second, in Mountain Home, names Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
In the ornate public gallery of the Idaho House of Representatives, lobbyist Erik Makrush of the Idaho Freedom Foundation leaned over to a reporter sitting next to him and whispered, “If you have any questions, you can ask me.” The House was debating one of 11 bills that would trim the powers of urban renewal agencies in the state, a hot political issue in Idaho’s 2011 legislative session. Makrush said he’d written all of them. A year later, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman persuaded a House committee chairwoman to pull a bill he opposed just as debate was about to start on the floor. Both episodes illustrate the raw political power of a nonprofit charity that some believe is abusing its lucrative tax-free status.
Although charitable organizations are allowed to do some lobbying without risking their tax benefits, the Idaho Freedom Foundation actively pushes and opposes legislation on dozens of issues every session in ways that more closely resemble a full-on lobbying group. “If Wayne Hoffman can call a committee chairman and have a bill pulled, that’s pretty remarkable clout,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.
At issue is whether taxpayers should be subsidizing its activities. As a charity organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), contributions to the Idaho Freedom Foundation are tax deductible. Contributions to lobbying groups organized under section 501(c)(4), such as the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association, are not.
In its scant five years in existence, the IFF has become one of the most active and influential groups in Idaho’s Statehouse. “We have good relationships,” Hoffman said of his group’s activities. “So they (lawmakers) take our calls, they listen to us, they read our emails.” “They’re pretty darn active,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise. “They’re visible in every committee room I serve on.” Hoffman maintains it’s really not a lobbying group and that it does only a small amount of lobbying. He reported spending just $13,000 on lobbying in 2012, out of $447,108 in total expenses. In 2011, he reported just $10,290 spent on lobbying; in 2010 and 2009, he reported that the group spent zero to influence legislation.
“We’re an education organization,” said Hoffman, who was paid $99,645 by the group in 2012. “Our biggest focus is the education of policymakers.”
However, experts say IFF likely is underreporting its lobbying under federal tax laws, which potentially could endanger its tax-free status. “I think there’s a serious yellow flag here,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a nationally known expert on nonprofit tax law and a law professor at the University of Notre Dame; you can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.
First, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman issued a letter to the city of Boise asking it to back off on its proposed bond issue member on November’s ballot for parks, open space and public safety improvements. Hoffman contended the bond includes “items that fall under the category of ‘fun,’” and wrote, “The funding for the project will come on the backs of people who may still be unemployed, may be facing unemployment or are seeing a decline in their income.”
In response, Emily Walton, a recent BSU graduate (and 2012 commencement speaker) and founder of the Idaho Civic Engagement Project, which encourages young voters to become involved in non-partisan civic issues, wrote a response entitled, “What Wayne Hoffman doesn't undserstand about Boise,” arguing passionately in favor of asking Boiseans to vote on whether they want the bond issue or not; it would take two-thirds voter approval to pass. “Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t even live in Boise, but Hoffman’s misguided plea to our Boise City Council to not put a bond on the ballot this November demonstrates a lack of understanding about Boise, Boiseans, and the history of the city that we love,” she wrote. Hoffman lives in Nampa.
Hoffman responded in an email to the Boise Weekly that his organization has its offices in Boise and many of its employees live in the city. Dustin Hurst, a contractor for the IFF whom Hoffman said “writes a couple stories a week for me,” posted a comment on Facebook saying, “Emily Walton just picked a fight with Wayne Hoffman? This will not end well for Emily. Not at all.”
Walton responded this morning with a press release demanding an apology from Hoffman. “That’s a pretty ominous threat,” she wrote. “It’s not going to end well for me? … My sister is wondering if I need to hire a bodyguard. … Part of me finds this threat laughable but the other part is appalled. Who do you think you are? Is the Idaho Freedom Foundation not aware that Idahoans have the right to disagree with them?” Click below to read her full press release.
Hoffman told Eye on Boise this morning, “Dustin is not threatening Emily. Dustin is a really nice guy. … If Emily feels that way, then I respect that feeling and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to feel as if they’re being threatened. Her opinions are valuable, they’re her opinions. … I value and respect the fact that we have differences of opinion.” He added, “It should never be personal, and I sincerely doubt that Dustin meant anything harmful by his comment. … If she feels offended and she wants an apology, she has it.” Hurst declined to comment.
Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Idaho Power Co. has joined forces with the libertarian Idaho Freedom Foundation, with both the utility and its CEO listed as sponsors of the group's upcoming annual banquet. “Idaho Power is the only old-guard sponsor,” Popkey reports. “The three other corporate backers are Internet Truckstop of Fruitland, DJM Sales & Marketing of Garden City, and Molitor & Associates, a small Boise-based lobbying firm.”
The power company also is a leading force in the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state's biggest business lobby; oddly, the Freedom Foundation earlier this year helped kill an IACI effort to push for a state-run health insurance exchange. Idaho Power officials wouldn't tell Popkey why they're signing on with the group; you can read his full report here.
Idaho Power's move follows Avista Corp.'s controversial effort during the GOP primary election to target two longtime GOP lawmakers from North Idaho, unsuccessfully backing their tea party challengers. The utility that serves North Idaho fell short in the effort; Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, easily defeated their challengers.
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.
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.”