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Idaho Freedom Foundation’s charitable status scrutinized

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.

Rep. Patterson complains to Secty of State about Sheriffs Association lobbying

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 2013 Legislature's passionate debate over gun rights has been extended beyond the session, with a lawmaker whose bill was killed now complaining that his measure was torpedoed by lobbyists who weren't properly registered. Republican Rep. Mark Patterson of Boise sponsored a measure to charge Idaho law enforcement officers with a crime for assisting the federal government in confiscating newly banned weapons. The bill died. But Patterson this month complained to the Idaho secretary of state that Idaho Sheriff's Association director Vaughn Killeen wasn't registered as a lobbyist. Furthermore, Patterson contends the group's registered lobbyist, Michael Kane, didn't properly disclose his firearms-related lobbying. Killeen and Kane have since amended their filings. Killeen contends he wasn't required to register as a lobbyist, but did so May 15 to avoid future misunderstandings.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

State officials restricted from lobbying


OLYMPIA – State officials who ask the Legislature for more money or expanded programs could be fined, and pay the penalty out of their own pocket, if they don’t properly file lobbying reports with the Public Disclosure Commission.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, sets up a civil penalty of $100 per statement on a state agency head who fails to file lobbying reports with the commission and allows any state official or employee who improperly spends public money on lobbying to be fined.

Supporters say it’s a way to keep public money from being used to lobby for more public money. It doesn’t keep state officials from supplying information in response to legislative requests.

Signed Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee, it takes effect at the beginning of 2014.

Second former top state official becomes Idaho Power lobbyist

Idaho Power Co. gained more lobbying might from inside government, as another of the governor's former chiefs of staff registered to become a paid lobbyist for the state's biggest utility, reports AP reporter John Miller. Jason Kreizenbeck, who quit as Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's top aide in October, will lobby the Legislature and his former boss. His predecessor, former chief of staff Jeff Malmen, is also an Idaho Power lobbyist. Unlike more than half of states, Idaho has no revolving door restrictions that force legislators or government employees to undergo a waiting period before lobbying former colleagues; click below for Miller's full report.

WA Lege Day 17: Spokane comes to Oly

OLYMPIA — State legislators won't spend much time on "the floor" today, but  have a full slate of hearings on everything from foreclosures to college efficiencies to smoking in cars with kids.

Meanwhile, members of the Greater Spokane Inc. delegation is scheduled to hit town around noon, where they will meet with key legislators on health care, transportation and spending issues over the next two and a half days.

What do they want most? Some movement forward on a medical school in Spokane. What are their chances? Remains to be seen. But they'll have a chance to lobby legislative leaders and the governor at various points.

Republican leaders have their weekly press conference at noon.

Among the bills up for committee discussion this afternoon is SB 5016, which would allow law enforcemenet officers to ticket anyone for smoking in a car with a person under 18. It would be a secondary infraction, meaning that police couldn't stop you just for smoking with kids in the car. It's up for discussion in the Senate Transportation Committee at 3:30 p.m.

The Senate Higher Education Committee is looking at SB 5107, which would consolidate all the boards of regents for the state universities and colleges, and make one Board of Regents of 19 people for all baccalaureate granting public schools. It would abolish the Higher Education Coordinating Board, the governor's Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and the Council of Presidents.

Two Idaho lobbying firms merge

Two prominent Idaho lobbying firms are merging: Sullivan & Reberger is merging with Eiguren Public Policy, and the new firm, Sullivan Reberger Eiguren, will represent the clients of both firms. Sullivan & Reberger is Pat Sullivan and Phil Reberger, while Eiguren Public Policy is Roy Eiguren. “We were just at points in our lives which made some sense for us to do it,” said lobbyist Pat Sullivan. “Phil’s looking more toward slowing down a little bit and redirecting.” Eiguren said, “For me, it adds depth and a broader scope to my practice, because I’ve been a sole practitioner for five years.”

Added Eiguren, “It’s a relative comment, but we’ll be the largest lobbying firm in the state.” In addition to the three principals, the new firm likely will bring on another lobbyist, Sullivan said. The firm’s anticipating a busy legislative session. “I’ve got tax issues, environmental law issues, retail grocery issues, bail bond issues, budget issues,” Eiguren said.

Eiguren’s current clients include Amalgamated Sugar, American Ecology Corp., Exergy Development Group, Prison Health Services Inc. and Verizon Wireless, among others. Sullivan’s include AREVA Inc., Associated General Contractors of Idaho, Eli Lilly Corp. and Moneytree Inc., among others.

Newspaper: Crapo’s daughter lobbies for some recipients of senator’s earmarks

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call has come out with a story about lobbying by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s daughter, Lara; she represents numerous health-care-related interests, the paper reported, including several Idaho medical facilities for which the Idaho Republican has sought earmarks, according to federal lobbying disclosure records. Paul Lee, a former Senate aide and founder of the firm Strategic Health Care, where Lara Crapo serves as government relations director, said the office maintains a strict separation between Crapo and her father’s office. You can read the Roll Call report here.

Former Idaho Rep. LaRocco signs on with big D.C. lobbying firm

Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is touting its newest addition of “top tier talent to its growing government relations group,” namely former Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco. LaRocco, who previously had his own public affairs and lobbying firm, LaRocco & Associates, will be a policy director for the group with a focus on financial services and natural resources. When he represented Idaho’s 1st Congressional District in Congress from 1991 to 1995, LaRocco, a Democrat, served on the financial services and natural resources committees. “Larry’s experience as a member of Congress coupled with his deep relationships and extensive knowledge of Capitol Hill make him a significant addition to our firm,” said Al Mottur, managing partner of the lobbying firm’s Washington, D.C. office.

LaRocco called the move “a natural next step in my career” and said, “I look forward to working with the firm’s experienced team of policy advisors on these constantly evolving and game-changing issues.”  The Brownstein firm says it’s “ranked among the fastest growing and top lobbying firms in Washington, D.C.”; it was founded in 1968 and employs a “bipartisan team” of nearly 240 attorneys and legislative consultants that “works to secure the client’s best interest in areas such as energy and environment, telecommunications and financial services.”

Officials fly on state plane for lobbying tour, mining industry foots the bill

Idaho state officials flew on a state plane for a lobbying tour of phosphate mines last month, with a mining industry group footing the bill, the Associated Press reports, though the Idaho Transportation Department doesn’t allow private groups to charter state planes. Lt. Gov. Brad Little said the move will save taxpayers money, but a group that opposes Idaho phosphate mine expansion questioned the arrangement. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

School-library advocates continue to lobby like the pros…

“We need to pack the gallery! East siders, don’t make the trek yet — we’ll let you know when to pull out the stops. West siders, please stand in for us.”

-part of a memo from school-library advocates backing HB 1410, a 111-page bill spelling out the basic educational components that lawmakers commit to paying for. The advocates — three Spokane-area mothers — pushed hard last year and won extra money from the legislature for school libraries and librarians.