Idaho Freedom Foundation
The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) is a conservative 501(c)(3) organization that is a member of the right-wing State Policy Network and advocates for conservative state legislation in Idaho. It is based in Boise and calls itself a research institute that advocates for "free market solutions, private property rights, individual responsibility and transparent, limited government."
- 1 News and Controversies
- 1.1 IFF Opposes Teaching Social Justice at Universities
- 1.2 IFF Organizes "Disobey Idaho" Rally During COVID-19 Pandemic
- 1.3 Idaho Freedom Foundation Critiques Statutory Rape Gun Law
- 1.4 IFF Loses Medicaid Lawsuit
- 1.5 Judge Throws Out IFF Urban Renewal Lawsuit
- 1.6 IFF Colludes with Lawmakers to Prohibit DREAMERs
- 1.7 Police Remove Two from Judiciary Hearing
- 1.8 IFF Accused of Violating IRS Rules
- 1.9 Former IFF Board Member Russ Fulcher's 2018 Campaigns
- 1.10 Critics Scrutinize IFF's Charitable Status
- 2 Idaho Freedom Index
- 3 Ties to the State Policy Network
- 4 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 5 Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- 6 Ties to the Kochs
- 7 Funding
- 8 Core Financials
- 9 Personnel
- 10 Contact Information
- 11 Articles and Resources
- 12 References
News and Controversies
IFF Opposes Teaching Social Justice at Universities
The Idaho Freedom Foundation opposes teaching social justice "ideology" in university curricula in Idaho, specifically targeting Boise State University (BSU). On their website, they wrote: "We suggest budgetary and administrative ways of putting our universities back on the right track." In March 2021, the state cut $409,000 from BSU's budget. Idaho representative Ron Nate, a Republican affiliated with IFF, advocated "defund[ing] the social justice agenda by reducing higher education spending." That month, BSU suspended classes dealing with "diversity" and then reinstated them online, asynchronously.
According to the New York Times:
- "These suspensions happened the day before the Idaho State Senate voted to cut $409,000 from the school’s budget, an amount meant to reflect what Boise State spends on social justice programs. The budget bill also banned state colleges and universities from using any appropriated funds to 'support social justice ideology student activities, clubs, events and organizations on campus,' and requires schools to report all social justice spending to the Legislature. The Idaho Statesman quoted one lawmaker saying of schools, 'They’re going to get the message."
IFF Organizes "Disobey Idaho" Rally During COVID-19 Pandemic
Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, IFF organized a "Disobey Idaho" rally to oppose Gov. Brad Little’s extension of the statewide stay-at-home order. A few hundred people attended the rally, breaking the stay-at-home law. The next week, IFF anti-vaccine activist Sara Brady was arrested at a playground for hosting a “play date” with children that violated the stay-at-home order. While being arrested for trespassing, Brady yelled out “Call Idaho Freedom Foundation.” In response to Brady's arrest, IFF Communications Director Dustin Hurst posted a video on IFF's social media calling for a protest. IFF shortly took the video down. Nevertheless, later that night anti-government activist Ammon Bundy- notorious for his 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge- protested at the arresting officer's home. IFF refutes any involvement with Bundy's protest. The day after Brady's arrest, IFF hosted a "Disobey Dodgeball event.
Idaho Freedom Foundation Critiques Statutory Rape Gun Law
In March 2019, The Idaho House voted to pass a bill that revokes the gun rights of someone charged with the sexual assault of a 16 or 17 year-old. IFF argued against the law, citing a hypothetical situation where a 22 year-old college senior were to send sexually explicit text messages to a 17 year-old freshman. IFF claimed that the law would violate the Second Amendment right to bare arms over a "consensual" interaction.  Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise who sponsored the bill rejected the opposition, saying "these are the crimes we're talking about. Pretty ugly. That's why it's so important to add this to the list of restrictions on firearms."
IFF Loses Medicaid Lawsuit
The Idaho Supreme Court found Medicaid expansion- or Proposition 2- to be legal after IFF sued. In the lawsuit, IFF argued that Proposition 2 gave too much power to the federal government and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The court found IFF's argument to be "unpersuasive." The Idaho Attorney General’s Office rejected the lawsuit as "frivolous, unreasonable and without foundation."
Judge Throws Out IFF Urban Renewal Lawsuit
In July of 2019, Judge Lynn Norton threw out a lawsuit IFF filed over two urban renewal districts. IFF claimed that the districts violate Idaho's state constitution. The 2009 Idaho Supreme Court case Rexburg v. Hart gave basis for Judge Norton's decision to dismiss IFF's lawsuit.
IFF Colludes with Lawmakers to Prohibit DREAMERs
Shortly after Boise State University interim president Martin Schimpf threw his support behind awarding DREAMERs state scholarships in 2019, IFF mobilized to prohibit such awards. Emails released by the Idaho Statesman illustrate IFF's lobbying efforts. In an email to members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the House and Senate education committees, IFF Vice President Fred Birnbaum claimed "BSU is going in an increasingly radical direction." "Please note that illegal alien students (DACA students) are being invited to apply for Opportunity Scholarships," he continues. In a later statement, Birnbaum said ""We believe that it is an important public policy issue to prioritize Idahoans who are U.S. citizens to receive these limited opportunity scholarship dollars."
Police Remove Two from Judiciary Hearing
During a judiciary hearing in August of 2020, police removed two right-wing protesters from Lincoln Auditorium. Several disruptors sat in the press seats, defying requests to move despite a lack of credentials. After the incident, the protesters were seen talking with Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman. Hoffman claims he was not involved with the disruption.
IFF Accused of Violating IRS Rules
In 2020, a complaint was filed to the IRS, accusing the Idaho Freedom Foundation of violating federal non-profit rules. The complaint claims that the Idaho Freedom Foundation disobeyed rules by “engaging in excessive lobbying activities” and “supporting illegal activities.” IFF is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt public charity. 501(c)3 organizations can participate in some lobbying, "but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status." The complaint alleges IFF participates in excessive lobbying at the state-level. The complaint also alleges that the IFF encouraged "illegal activity" during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The IFF encouraged and organized Idahoans to disobey Idaho Governor Little’s statewide pandemic ‘stay-at-home order.' IFF organized a "Disobey Idaho" rally, and hosted a "disobey dodgeball" event.
Former IFF Board Member Russ Fulcher's 2018 Campaigns
Russ Fulcher resigned from the board of the Idaho Freedom Foundation on August 24, 2016, initially to focus on q 2018 campaign for governor of Idaho. Fulcher had served on IFF's Board since December of 2014. However, in June of 2017, Fulcher announced that he was suspending his gubernatorial campaign. Raúl Labrador entered the governor's race, reportedly Labrador and Fulcher "are political allies and share a base of support." Fulcher instead began an eventually successful campaign to take the congressional seat Labrador vacated in his own respective bid for governor. Fulcher will be sworn into office representing Idaho's first district at the beginning of 2019.
Critics Scrutinize IFF's Charitable Status
In September 2013, the Idaho Spokesman-Review reported that experts on non-profit tax law like Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, believe IFF is "abusing its lucrative tax-free status" because it "likely is underreporting its lobbying under federal tax laws."
IFF is organized as a 501(c)(3), so contributions to the group are tax-deductible. Contributions to 501(c)(4) lobbying groups are not. According to the Spokesman-Review, IFF's Executive Director Wayne 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." But in 2013, "IFF had three registered lobbyists, was a constant presence in the Capitol[,] and led the opposition to the governor's biggest legislative proposal of the session, the bill creating a state-based health insurance exchange. It rated 150 bills against its agenda, assigning positive or negative scores, and tracked lawmakers' votes. The group writes legislation, testifies to committees, sponsors lectures and tours for legislators, conducts polls, publishes reports and sends out emails, and its lawmaker scores have been prominently featured in campaign ads." The article sums up, "most of its work focuses on influencing public policy."
On whether or not the organization is lobbying, the newspaper posted a dialogue between IFF Executive Director Wayne Hoffman and non-profit tax law expert Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer:
- "'Lobbying is a very specific thing,' Hoffman said, adding that he believes as long as any of his group's communications stop short of saying 'vote yes' or 'vote no,' they haven't crossed the 'bright line' between education and lobbying.
- "However, Mayer said, 'Mr. Hoffman is confusing federal election law with federal tax law. More specifically, he is confusing the rules relating to whether a communication is "express advocacy" for purposes of the federal election law with the rules relating to whether a communication is lobbying for the purposes of the federal tax laws. The federal tax laws defining lobbying are much broader … and reach essentially any communication that mentions specific legislation and reflects a view on that legislation, whether expressly or less directly.'
- "Hoffman said in his view, even writing bills isn't lobbying. 'As I understand it, that is not lobbying because what you are doing is you are working on helping lawmakers divine good public policy, which is what we do anyway,' he said. 'It’s educational.'
- "He has the same view of the town meetings, literature[,] and pre-election robocalls his group sponsored when Shoshone County had a measure on the ballot in May to form a new urban renewal agency, though he boasts that after IFF's efforts, the measure failed by a 3-1 margin. 'That was just an education effort,' he said.
- "Mayer said the robocalls likely qualify as direct lobbying because they asserted that the measure would drive up taxes and take away people’s ability to vote on future projects. 'The lack of "vote against" or similar language does not control,' he said.
- "He noted, 'A communication can be both educational and lobbying; the terms are not mutually exclusive.' A lobbying communication might also be 'informative,' he said."
Despite IFF's three registered lobbyists in 2013, Hoffman told the Spokesman-Review that "the only thing he reports on his Form 990 as lobbying is his own time spent telling legislators to vote one way or another, or sending emails or writing letters with that message. 'It's time that I spend testifying in committee,' he said, and reflects 'very little' of his other employees' time."
Idaho Freedom Index
As part of its activities, IFF maintains the Idaho Freedom Index. IFF describes the Index as "an aggregation of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s non-partisan analysis and rating of bills voted on by the Idaho Legislature during each legislative session." Despite describing the Idaho Freedom Index as "non-partisan", not a single democratic scored above a 0 on the index in 2016.
Richard Larsen, president of Larsen Financial, said that the Index, "is of marginal use in identifying fealty to conservative values and is being used as a bully tactic against select legislators whom the foundation has targeted as dispensable."
Ties to the State Policy Network
IFF is a member of the State Policy Network. Between 2012 and 2016, SPN donated $68,350 to IFF. IFF regularly appears in SPN's "Week in Review" blog posts. SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2022, SPN's membership totals 166. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
The IFF has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) through its Executive Director, Wayne Hoffman. In an article on the foundation's website entitled, "ALEC Helps Promote Good Public Policy," Hoffman states, "ALEC has been an invaluable resource and friend to me and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Few people know how often I have asked ALEC’s staff for help battling big-government ideas, including the federal health care takeover and the imposition of confiscatory tax polices. And it has always responded. . . . I’m grateful for ALEC, and you should be, too.".
Furthermore, according to the groups' publication the Idaho Reporter, the IFF sponsored a trip to Boise for John Graham of the Pacific Research Institute and Christie Herrera, director of the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force, to meet with Idaho lawmakers to discuss health care policy. (For more on the Idaho Reporter and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, see their connections to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity below).
Additionally, the IFF has ties to ALEC through its membership with the State Policy Network, which is an ALEC member and sponsor. ALEC is also an Associate Member of the SPN.
Please see SPN Ties to ALEC for more.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our ExposedbyCMD.org site.
Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com and The Idaho Freedom Foundation was listed as a Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity "Watchdog Bureau". The Franklin Center funds reporters in over 40 states. Despite their non-partisan description, many of the websites funded by the Franklin Center have received criticism for their conservative bias. On its website, the Franklin Center claims it "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."
Franklin Center Funding
Franklin Center Director of Communications Michael Moroney told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in 2013 that the source of the Franklin Center's funding "is 100 percent anonymous." But 95 percent of its 2011 funding came from DonorsTrust, a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable that functions as a large "donor-advised fund," cloaking the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country (CPI did a review of Franklin's Internal Revenue Service records). Mother Jones called DonorsTrust "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" in a February 2013 article. Franklin received DonorTrust's second-largest donation in 2011.
The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM), a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. SAM gets funding from the State Policy Network, which is partially funded by the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Charles Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-own Koch Industries, sits on the board of this foundation. SAM also receives funding from the Rodney Fund.
Ties to the Kochs
In addition to receiving funding from the State Policy Network and the Donors Capital Fund, both with ties to the Kochs, the Idaho Freedom Foundation is a partner organization in the Charles Koch Institute's Liberty@Work program.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation does not disclose its donors, but some of its funding sources are known through other tax filings. IFF's known funders include:
- Adolph Coors Foundation: $25,000 (2014-2016)
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation: $20,444 (2015-2017)
- Donors Capital Fund: $694,600 (2010-2016)
- DonorsTrust: $17,400 (2017-2018)
- EdChoice: $25,000 (2014)
- Foundation for Government Accountability: $3,500 (2012)
- Idaho Wins Inc: $500 (2013)
- J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation: $195,000 (2013)
- Jaquelin Hume Foundation: $15,000 (2011)
- John H. and Orah. I. Brandt Foundation: $55,000 (2018)
- Roe Foundation: $45,000 (2010-2012)
- Schwab Charitable Fund: $32,200 (2014-2016)
- Smeed Memorial Foundation: $577,500 (2013-2014)
- State Policy Network: $68,350 (2012-2016)
- Stefan and Tanya Gleason Foundation: $14,500 (2017-2018)
- Total Revenue: $806,862
- Total Expenses: $888,321
- Net Assets: $640,277
- Total Revenue: $763,312
- Total Expenses: $697,821
- Net Assets: $721,736
- Total Revenue: $526,538
- Total Expenses: $668,356
- Net Assets: $656,245
- Total Revenue: $1,039,130
- Total Expenses: $663,117
- Net Assets: $797,943
- Total Revenue: $757,402
- Total Expenses: $731,027
- Net Assets: $421,930
- Total Revenue: $695,200
- Total Expenses: $688,748
- Net Assets: $395,555
- Total Revenue: $541,631
- Total Expenses: $447,108
- Net Assets: $389,103
- Total Revenue: $355,673
- Total Expenses: $350,348
- Net Assets: $294,580
- Total Revenue: $494,134
- Total Expenses: $356,081
- Net Assets: $289,255
- Total Revenue: $369,377
- Total Expenses: $218,275
- Net Assets: $151,202
As of September 2020:
- Wayne Hoffman, President
- Fred Birnbaum, Vice President
- Dustin Hurst, Communication Director
- Janae Wilkerson, Executive Assistant
- Alli Megal, Office Manager
- Dr. John M. Livingston, Special Adviser on Medical Policy
- Matt Tobeck, Local Government Policy Analyst
- Erik Makrush, Director of Transparency and Government Accountability (identified as a lobbyist by the Idaho Spokesman-Review
- Parrish Miller, Policy Analyst
- Mitch Coffman, Communications Director
- Austin Hill, Writer
- Lindsay Russell Dexter, Senior Policy Director
- Reina Rodriguez, Communication specialist
- Phil Haunschild, Senior Policy Analyst
- Matthew Keenan, Development
- Lindsay Atkinson, Policy Analyst
- Harrison Smith, Policy Analyst
- Kurt Weber, Editor
Board of Directors
As of August 2020:
- Brent Regan
- Dar Symms
- Vicki Keen
- Dr. Loel Fenwick, MD
- Doyle Beck
- Bob Tikker
- Tina Deboer
- Bryan Smith
Former members of the Board:
- Bob Rathbone
- Heather Lauer
Idaho Freedom Foundation
802 W. Bannock Street, Suite 405
Boise, Idaho 83702
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
Related Sourcewatch Articles
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