Like it or not — and there are a lot of people who won’t like this — the Idaho Freedom Foundation is the most powerful lobbying group in Idaho.
There isn’t even a close second. In fact, I know of no group over the last 35 years that can come near to the power of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The Idaho Freedom Foundation certainly isn’t the best-liked, or most respected, group by any means; those in the political world either love or hate Wayne Hoffman’s organization. But there is no question about the lobbying group’s astounding level of power and influence.
State Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, a candidate for Idaho lieutenant governor, uses her 100 percent voting record with the Idaho Freedom Foundation as a bragging point in her campaign.
Getting a perfect voting record with the Idaho Freedom Foundation takes some doing. Hoffman’s team floods legislators with their positions on issues along with a scoring system attached to positive (or negative) votes. To attain a perfect voting record, a legislator has to absorb all the information, discard anything that might come up in a debate and vote according to the wishes of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
It’s legislators selling their souls to a lobbying group. Every single time the Idaho Freedom Foundation takes a stand on a bill.
Giddings isn’t alone. Rep. Chad Christensen of Iona also has a 100 percent voting record; four others are at 99%; 12 are 90% or above; and 16 are 80% or above.
Now, that’s power. And those at the top of the food chain seem to treat Idaho Freedom Foundation memos as something that comes from the Bible. That’s double power – but nothing compared to what you’d see if Lt. Janice McGeachin wins the governor’s race and Giddings gets in as lieutenant governor. If that happens, we might as well shut down all the state agencies and turn over the whole operation to Hoffman & Co.
For sure, that would mean job security for quite a few editorial writers. And maybe it would be added life to Hoffman, who seems to thrive on media controversy.
Not surprisingly, the Idaho Freedom Foundation comes under attack quite a bit – from people such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, former Attorney General Jim Jones and legislators both past and present.
Recently the Idaho Capital Sun, an online news outlet, produced a series of articles investigating the Idaho Freedom Foundation and saying, among other things, that the organization is breaking non-profit laws through extensive lobbying.
“I think of the Idaho Freedom Foundation as a lobbyist for liberty,” says Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls, the organization’s vice president. “The only ones really complaining about the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Idaho Freedom Index are Republicans who say they’re conservative to get elected but vote like Democrats once in office.”
These opinion pieces and negative stories are hits with Idaho Freedom Foundation detractors. But supporters, who may view Redoubt News as the most trusted source in reporting, are left yawning. Hoffman, an old newspaper veteran, doesn’t take these things lying down, often coming down hard on those who produce negative material about the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He labels Winder as a threat to democracy, Jones as dishonest and dismisses the Capital Sun as a “propaganda” factory.
“If it’s a negative article about the Idaho Freedom Foundation or a conservative officeholder, you can bet the Idaho Capital Sun will write it and your local newspaper will run it,” Hoffman says.
As for the media in general, he says, “Most of what you read in the Idaho media is not real journalism. It’s just hot air designed to undermine Idaho’s conservative values, organizations, and politicians. Don’t believe it.”
It all works out to Hoffman’s advantage. If conflicts with the media help the Idaho Freedom Foundation raise money, then there’s some loot coming through the front door. He’s taking a victory lap.
“I must say, you should be flattered,” he tells his supporters. “If principled conservatives like you and me weren’t making a difference — if we weren’t a threat to the socialist agenda in Idaho — no one would run advertisements, write hit pieces and file meritless complaints against us.”
For whatever the reason, Idaho Freedom Foundation’s power seems to grow with every election and its coalition in the Legislature keeps getting larger with each session. It’s apparent that Hoffman and the conservative/libertarian think tank he has built will be around for a long time — for better, or for worse.
Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org