BOISE – Billboards bashing Idaho lawmakers who cast votes for a state insurance exchange are popping up in legislative districts.
Idaho Freedom Foundation chief Wayne Hoffman said the signs are part of his group’s lobbying campaign to repeal Idaho’s exchange. Others said the effort appears aimed at Idaho’s 2014 elections, when 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, a Boise State University professor emeritus of public policy and 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 named on one of the signs, said he views the billboard 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’s organization is a tax-exempt charity prohibited by law from engaging in campaigning.
“We don’t get involved in elections. This has nothing to do with elections. It has to do with public policy,” he said. “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 as well as 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.
“They didn’t need to implement Obamacare,” the billboards read, with “didn’t” in bright-red italics. The billboards end with “Repeal the insurance exchange in 2014!” and the foundation’s logo and website address.
“I think it is terribly misleading … that we somehow brought Obamacare to the state of Idaho, the three of us,” Wood said. “That’s such a far-fetched idea as to be ludicrous.”
He noted that states had two choices: Start their own insurance exchanges or let the federal government run an exchange for their state. “Idaho, whenever given a choice, has always opted to do things the Idaho way,” Wood said, “because we’ve always been able to do it better, and we’ve always been able to do it cheaper.”
Defaulting to a federal exchange would have put the federal government in the position of regulating Idaho’s health insurance market, he said.
Cameron said, “I want to ask them: Can they find a single state that doesn’t have an exchange? And the truth is every state has an exchange. It’s either a federal exchange or a state-based exchange.”
He added, “The truth is we’re paying a lower fee because we have a state-based exchange. The truth is we have board members we can reach out and touch, we can call and talk to, that you can call and complain. We have no one really to call and complain to that’s running the federal exchange.”
Hoffman, who penned a guest editorial that appeared in several Idaho newspapers this week calling Idaho’s state insurance exchange “a festering sore,” said he’s spent $2,000 to $3,000 on the billboards so far, and had no estimate of how much he’ll spend overall.