The Idaho Freedom Foundation is pushing its “Disobey Idaho” movement really hard right now. The 501(c) (3) charitable education organization is pushing for civil disobedience against Idaho Governor Brad Little’s lawful stay home order.
Why would they take such an extremely unpopular position and risk the lives of others?
Well, it’s an election year and the Freedom Foundation needs all the attention they can get to push their agenda.
To understand why the Freedom Foundation is working overtime to politically distance themselves outside the window of what the normal populace sees as acceptable behavior, you need to understand what the Freedom Foundation is all about. They say they are here to protect liberty, defend the free market, and protect the constitution.
The truth may just be stranger than fiction.
The Emperor Has No Clothes
When you see a Senator or Representative’s Freedom Index, what are you really looking at? An objective score of how much they stand for Free Markets, the Second Amendment and Individual Liberty? Hardly. The strange tale of House Bill 480 makes that clear.
It wasn’t a big bill. It was just one of the dozens of little feel-good bills that receive unanimous support every year.
Representative Jerald Raymond’s bill puts an extra seal on the diploma of an Idaho high school graduate who masters a second language. This doesn’t cost the state a penny and gives recognition to Idaho students who have worked hard.
Look at the bills scored in the Freedom Index today and House Bill 480 isn’t there, but in February it was scored -1 because the Freedom Foundation said giving a student who worked hard a gold star was an expansion of government… or maybe just because they saw an opportunity to put a target on Jerald Raymond’s back to help former Freedom Foundation loyalist Karey Hanks in the 2020 primary election.
The Freedom Foundation dropped their negative score before the House voted but 23 of the 33 Representatives with the highest Freedom Index scores hadn’t checked the latest marching orders. They all voted No, following the old orders. The puppet strings were hanging out for all the State of Idaho to see, with the Freedom Foundation’s hands attached to the other end. How embarrassing…
By March the bill was in the Senate and the new orders were cleared. Jerald Raymond’s law passed unanimously and Governor Brad Little signed it.
The moral of the story is that when you look at a Senator or Representative’s sky-high Freedom Index, you’re actually looking at a measurement of how much they are willing to conform, to relinquish their independent judgment to the will of the Freedom Foundation. To act like servants… and not to their constituents.
The Freedom Foundation, their staff, their board of directors and the far-right groups that surround them have been working hard to trample your rights, like your right to repair your own tractor, the rights of children to grow up with good education and without being abused, and even your right to life and health.
They target good Conservative Republicans, label them RINO’s, and campaign against them while masquerading as a non-profit. The point is to make them afraid. The goal is to make sure that any time your legislator is thinking about a bill, they aren’t thinking about your interests but about what the Far-Right Political Machine might do to them if they do not bend to their will.
The Far Right Political Machine has its loyalists. They will do just about anything to get them elected and keep them in office. Freedom Index winners and losers appear to be determined before legislative sessions to align with their election strategies.
Real Republicans are ready to push back against the Freedom Foundation and the irresponsible actions of its far-right allies. That begins with understanding them. This is the story of who they are, their real agenda, and how they are weaponizing your support.
Founding And Funding The Foundation
The Freedom Foundation was created in 2008 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The group’s status as a 501(c)(3) gives it many financial and strategic advantages. Donations to the group are tax-deductible and they don’t have to pay income taxes as most lobbying groups do. Most importantly they don’t have to disclose their donors the way Political Action Committees are required to. While the Freedom Foundation says that they support transparency, they have taken careful steps to make sure they can avoid it at all costs.
It’s 501(c)(3) Charity status is supposed to put limits on how much lobbying the Freedom Foundation can do but they are using the archaic IRS rules very much to their advantage.
In light of the “Disobey Idaho” movement directed and coordinated by the non- profit Idaho Freedom Foundation and Idaho Second Amendment Alliance organizations, have they potentially jeopardized their tax-exempt statuses by encouraging the flagrant violation of Governor Little’s stay home order?
It’s a lucrative business for President Wayne Hoffman. In 2018, he was paid $133,109 from his work at the “non-profit.” The group usually gets about $750,000 to $1,000,000 per year from its top-secret donors, according to tax documents.
While Freedom Foundation works hard to keep its funding secret, some information has leaked out. Tax filings show that the State Policy Network has been one of the Freedom Foundation’s major funders, as has the Donor’s, Capital Fund. Both are closely linked with ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a “bill mill” representing the interests of national, not Idaho, industries. The Freedom Foundation is also directly linked with ALEC.
They also maintain close links with a variety of far-right figures that help promote their views, punish responsible Conservative lawmakers, and push extreme legislation.
The groups that make up the Far-Right Political Machine include:
- The Idaho Second Amendment Alliance
- The Madison Liberty Institute
- Health Freedom Idaho
- Idaho Freedom Action
- The Real Idaho 3%
- The John Birch Society
- The Idaho GOP
They use Fake News organizations like Redoubt News, Keep Idaho Free, and The Gem State Patriot to promote their agenda. These small groups use social media tactics to appear larger and more important than they really are.
Policy Analyst Parrish Miller briefly disappeared from prominence in 2015 after he suggested that in principle parents shouldn’t be prosecuted for letting their children starve to death. This year Parrish Miller returned, producing the bill ratings that purport to tell you how Conservative our Senators and Representatives are.
Equally important are the Freedom Foundation’s board members, three in particular: Doyle Beck, Bryan Smith, and Brent Regan. Doyle Beck uses editorials in the Post Register newspaper to promote the Freedom Index and attack Conservative lawmakers. The Freedom Foundation has promoted bills that would protect Bryan Smith’s business interests (medical debt collection) and attacked bills that might hurt them. Brent Regan, the chair of the Idaho Freedom Foundation uses his position as the chair of the Idaho GOP Rules Committee to push support for resolutions and rules to enforce ideology that backs legislation Freedom Foundation loyalist legislators plan on running in the next session.
Doyle Beck is a legislative district chair alongside Bryan Smith who serves as the 4th Vice-Chair for the Bonneville County GOP and the 2nd Vice-Chair for the Idaho State GOP. The Freedom Foundation board tentacles reach deep into the party to pull the strings of their former candidate for Governor and current Idaho GOP party chair Raul Labrador. Beck and Smith also funded the ironically named “Idahoans Fighting Corruption” PAC to help install Janice McGeachin as the Idaho Lt. Governor.
The Big Lie
The Freedom Index claims to tell you how Conservative a Senator or Representative is. However, the key to making the Freedom Index work isn’t Conservative legislators but Democrats.
The Freedom Foundation leverages them to make Conservatives LOOK Liberal. There are 14 Democrats in the Idaho House of Representatives compared to 56 Republicans. No Democrat in Idaho has ever run on a remotely Conservative platform and yet they have to vote on Republican-sponsored bills. Republicans have control of the Legislature, so almost all bills that are introduced are Conservative bills sponsored by them. Democrats DO NOT have the luxury of NOT voting, their constituents would not allow that. They can only decide whether to support these Republican-sponsored bills or not.
So the Freedom Index leverages the bills where only its favorite lawmakers go against both mainstream Republicans and Democrats to paint real Conservatives as Liberals. Read it again and you will understand it!
While the Freedom Foundation uses the fact that it does not endorse candidates to get around campaign finance laws, it has a long record of attacking and opposing candidates by nimbly blending the Idaho Freedom Foundation into their Idaho Freedom Action PAC strategy.
One perfect example is the apparent coordination between Idaho Second Amendment Alliance president Greg Pruett, the Freedom Foundation, and a few of its board members.
During the 2018 primary election, Greg Pruett’s Second Amendment Alliance received money from Freedom Foundation board member Bryan Smith to help elect Idaho 3% militia administrator Chad Christensen against incumbent Tom Loertscher.
The Idaho GOP assigned Dorothy Moon (IFF loyalty score: 91%) to be the liaison between the party and the legislature. If Republican legislators give a hint they might not vote the way the Freedom Foundation wants, Moon is there to remind them of the draconian consequences for not towing the line. The fix is in and fear is enforced.
They paint mainstream Republicans as RINO’s to change and distort what it means to be a Conservative to create fear amongst Republican legislators that they might be next on the Freedom Foundation’s hit list.
Enforcing The Freedom Index
The starting point for understanding how the Freedom Foundation is able to play the puppetmaster to the far right in the Idaho Legislature is the Freedom Index. It’s a tool to make legislators afraid.
What happens to Senators and Representatives who don’t play along? Their rating falls and they get attacked because while the Freedom Foundation is careful never to endorse candidates, they spend a lot of time attacking Conservatives. They even keep kicking them after they’re down.
Former Representative Merrill Beyeler, a practical Conservative, testified about the implementation of Proposition 2 in committee after he was defeated by hand-picked loyalist Dorothy Moon. He shared that his son was in the Medicaid Gap during that testimony.
The Freedom Foundation retaliated by publishing an article by Jon Cassidy, who dug through Former Representative Beyeler’s county property tax records to find out what his land is worth. Beyeler is a working rancher whose money comes from the same hard, uncertain work that every rancher does but since farmland values have exploded in the Lemhi Valley, the Freedom Foundation portrayed him as an out of touch millionaire who wouldn’t take care of his son.
That’s as low as you can go. Making an example of Beyeler like this is part of the strategy to make lawmakers afraid so that they will do the bidding of the Far-Right Political Machine. They’re able to use this fear in a coordinated effort to influence policy toward their private goals, undermining the voters.
The Freedom Foundation’s Facebook page is full of video snippets slamming legislators who did not vote the way they liked or spoke up against them. One perfect example of this last session was when Rod Furniss spoke up from the house floor during the debate on HB515. Furniss said: “You know I heard some comments about the Freedom Foundation, it’s a -9 or something like that on the Freedom Foundation well the member of the board who sits on the Freedom Foundation is the attorney who is part of the collection agency”.
Immediately after, the Freedom Foundation clipped the video and posted it on their Facebook page to target Rep. Furniss. How dare he tell the truth.
Days later, Greg Pruett of the Second Amendment Alliance followed the Freedom Foundation’s lead and sent his thousands of Facebook followers after Rep. Furniss for a false accusation that he was supposedly against Pruett’s pet piece of non-existent legislation, the mythical Idaho Red Flag Law. Pruett also stated his support for Furniss’s 2020 primary opponent George Judd.
Rep. Furniss did what most legislators were afraid to do. He fought back and stood his ground.
Pruett was forced to concede that he was wrong and said, “You know, had Red Flag Rod just stated his stance of Red Flag laws he would have been fine.”
This is just one of many examples where the Freedom Foundation engaged its network to drive support for anti-common core hearings, punished legislators for supporting a vaccine rule, and to ensure Rep. Ehardt and Rep. Young’s anti-LGBT bills were supported and signed.
Lawsuits are the final step for enforcement, yet they are wasting taxpayer money and racking up losses.
In fact, the Freedom Foundation has lost every lawsuit it has filed except its first one. Even losing lawsuits can be a useful tactic for them however, since every time the state has to use taxpayer dollars to defend them.
Sometimes Board Member Bryan Smith represents them in these lawsuits, like when they claimed that Proposition 2 was Unconstitutional. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office called the lawsuit frivolous, and the Freedom Foundation lost without a single Justice taking their side. As much as they say they understand the Constitution, they’re wrong about it almost every time.
Attacking You And Your Rights
The Freedom Foundation says it’s in favor of Property Rights. If that is true, why was it so strongly opposed to the Right to Repair Act?
House Bill 452 was brought by Representative Britt Raybould and endorsed by the Farm Bureau. The bill was written to ensure that when a farmer buys a tractor he can repair it himself or hire an independent contractor to do it, instead of being forced by the Government to use the manufacturer or a dealer.
Michael Swore, an ordinary farmer who came to testify in favor of the bill, gave a simple reason to support it: the Right to Property. “I feel like if you buy something you should own it.”
You’d assume an organization dedicated to “individual liberty, personal responsibility, private property rights, economic freedom, and limited transparent government” would be on Michael Swore’s side. You’d be wrong.
Rep. Britt Raybould is being primaried by the Freedom Foundation’s golden boy, former Representative Ron Nate who used to be a Freedom Foundation Education Fellow and is now a Senior Fellow at the Madison Liberty Institute. This demonstrates another strategic use of the Freedom Index. As with Jerald Raymond’s simple bill, giving a negative score to Raybould’s bill gives them ammunition for a primary race that was likely planned long before the session began.
ALEC is a fierce opponent of the Right to Repair. It has strongly opposed the idea since 2017. The bill never got a vote in the House. In committee, Representative Dorothy Moon, another Freedom Foundation favorite and a guest speaker at the John Birch Society’s 60th Anniversary, led the opposition to the bill in the committee.
Attacking Education And Business
In July, Idaho Freedom Foundation’s favorite social justice issues Representative, Barbara Ehardt, sent a letter to Boise State University protesting the fact that black and gay students were holding their own graduation ceremonies. She implied that tuition was increasing at Idaho Universities because of these graduation ceremonies. “The cost of college is a factor in some students dropping out. Yet instead of looking to assist our students, Boise State is adding unnecessary costs.”
The objection was ultimately proven to be based on a falsehood. No taxpayer dollars were going to separate black or gay graduation ceremonies, they were paid for by the Coca-Cola brand. However, the setup was already in place and the far-right political machine, which had already begun attacking diversity before Ehardt sent the letter, moved into attack mode.
Representative Chad Christensen was so eager to please his masters at the Freedom Foundation that he quickly made a fool of himself. One of his supporters stumbled into a family restroom at Boise State that could be used by either men or women and was shocked to discover that restrooms used by women often supply sanitary pads. Rep. Christensen had no problems taking up the torch. He had no objection to taxpayers paying for toilet paper or paper towels in public restrooms, but he was so enraged by the sight of a maxi pad dispenser that Rep. Christensen vowed to defund Boise State University and incited the anger of women across the state.
That didn’t end the far-right political machine’s attack on diversity, which they made the central issue of the 2020 Legislative Session.
Some of Idaho’s most important businesses pushed back hard, warning that attacking diversity would drive away new employees and make Idaho a bad place to do business. The plea from businesses didn’t move lawmakers who were more afraid of the Freedom Foundation and its enforcers.
Putting Children At Risk
Some of the most harmful laws promoted by the Freedom Foundation are ones that would make it harder to stop child abuse. These laws were built on another falsehood.
One bill required Child Protective Services to tell people under investigation for child abuse that they could shut the door in their faces, something every child abuser would be sure to take advantage of. The Freedom Foundation scored that bill +1.
Another bill would have made it legal to ignore child abuse and not report it. That also scored a +1.
Bills like these were justified through a falsehood shared on social media by Freedom Foundation darling Representative Heather Scott. She posted a link to an article stating that “US Foster care supplies 88% of sex-trafficked children, study finds.”
The facts were false, but Heather Scott has never walked them back. The original source for that claim has this to say about it: “A previous version of this story stated that “88% percent of sex-trafficked children” come from the US foster care system. Since publishing, we have re-reviewed the information and found the source of that claim to be unreliable. Therefore, we are unaware of any links between foster care and sex trafficking.”
Facts don’t seem to matter when you have an IFF Loyalty Score of over 90%.
Attacking Public Health
The Freedom Foundation’s latest and most irresponsible coordinated action has been pushing for defiance of Republican Governor Brad Little’s stay home order in response to the coronavirus. They have been pushing against it since the start, and if Governor Little had listened to them hundreds of Idahoans may have died.
This has also revealed more than anything else the close coordination between all elements of the far-right political machine. Wayne Hoffman has appeared alongside Idaho Real 3% hero Ammon Bundy and at rallies for Health Freedom Idaho and the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance.
Their favored legislators like Chad Christensen, Tammy Nichols, and Christy Zito have been working together sharing and promoting these actions against Governor Little.
Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin joined the effort in her planned protest alongside former Rep. Ron Nate against Governor Little over his lawful stay home order to save lives, an action he took that was in line with the Trump administration’s guidance. Never before can anyone recall a sitting Lt. Governor participating in a protest against the current Governor of Idaho.
Leave it to the far-right political machine to break all rules of decorum just to enforce their narrative.
The Idaho Swamp
There’s another consistent pattern in Freedom Index scores that shows how they are often used for the naked self-interest of the Freedom Foundation and its board members. When there’s a conflict between Individual Liberty and the financial interests of those linked to the Freedom Foundation, Liberty goes by the wayside. The Freedom Foundation isn’t a charity supporting Liberty. It’s a classic Special Interest Group and a particularly insidious kind.
Trade associations, groups like the Farm Bureau, pick their policy positions based on the interests and voice of their members. Typically a policy will start as a resolution, continue through multiple vetting processes before finally being voted on by all members. Then and only then, will lobbying actions to be taken by a true membership organization. The Freedom Foundation has “policy analysts”. Period.
Two bills the Freedom Foundation most fervently opposed show they are not an organization that’s always driven by principles of Liberty. Sometimes, they’re driven by the financial interests of their board members, donors, and associated groups, even when that means crushing someone else’s Liberty.
When a bill was brought to impose restrictions on vape shops, as an epidemic of teen vaping threatens Idaho’s children, the Freedom Foundation rated it -7. Why? Maybe because Representative Vito Barbieri, one of their most loyal legislators, owns a vape shop. ALEC has been fighting against regulating vaping for many years. Remember, groups that are tied to ALEC help fund IFF.
When a bill was introduced to shift the fees collected for serving a garnishment from local sheriffs to debt collection companies, the Freedom Foundation scored it +4. Maybe because the law office owned by their board member, Bryan Smith, represents the debt collection company Medical Recovery Services and the opportunity to collect fees instead of the Sheriff’s department could be a new revenue stream for companies like his.
An even more egregious example of placing Profit before Liberty was the Idaho Patient Act (HB 515), which was designed to protect ordinary Idahoans from abusive medical debt collection.
In that case, Bryan Smith who’s on the Freedom Foundation’s board of directors and a major donor for the Freedom Foundation’s favored candidates stood to lose money. His law office represents Medical Recovery Services in medical debt collection. The Patient Act was given a -9 by the Freedom Foundation. Smith’s employee, Rep. Bryan Zollinger, spent over 45 minutes on the floor of the house arguing against the bill. He also introduced an awful victim-shaming website during the hearing on the Idaho Patient Act.
A flier that was distributed to legislators to oppose the bill also appears to point right back to Bryan Smith, since the file name includes “BryanSmith_Flyer_V4.pdf”.
The Freedom Foundation declares that its mission is “to implement innovative ideas to deplete the power of special interests and free people from government dependency.” However, this much is clear: The Freedom Foundation is a special interest group. They are Idaho’s Swamp.
Time To Drain The Swamp
The real agenda of this special interest group is property over people, self-interest over people, the interests of their donors over people, making government so limited that there is no government, and pushing for transparency from everyone but themselves.
If the Freedom Foundation succeeds in targeting and eliminating good Republican Senators and Representatives, it will continue to push extreme and self-interested legislation that is harmful to the State of Idaho, put Governor Brad Little in an untenable position and drive away employers. They will tarnish the reputation of Idaho Conservatism forever, and if they are allowed to proceed unchecked, Idaho could well be a purple state within a few years.
The Idaho Freedom Index Score is nothing more than a Special Interest Group Loyalty Score. For years they have been grooming voters to believe that their score is the only true gauge of conservatism in Idaho. They think voters are too stupid to know the real truth.
Now that you know better, you can do better. Together, we can end the power this Special Interest Group holds over the Legislature and make sure that Republican legislators serve their constituents, not the Freedom Foundation. When doing your candidate research before you vote, take a look at the incumbents who are bragging about their Idaho Freedom Foundation special interest loyalty score, and then vote for the candidate who will listen to the voice of the people and not the Idaho Swamp.
Reject the Freedom Index. Take back your voice.
(Be sure to click the links highlighted in red to view the source)
Stephanie Mickelsen, Gretchen Clelland, Kassidy Ellis Telford, and Julie VanOrden assisted in the research and writing of this article.
Jennifer Ellis is a rancher from Blackfoot, Idaho. She has worked for over 20 years with agriculture and community policy. She and her husband ranch and farm in Bingham and Caribou Counties.