Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation, officially a public charity under federal tax law, has become a force in Idaho politics. The group is similar to several dozen like-minded libertarian-leaning political actors that for a decade or more have been trying to influence education and other policies in every state. These groups get their money from secret sources, but you can make an educated guess as to who funds their pernicious, frequently fact-free advocacy. The Idaho edition of this template is particularly odious.
In 2020, the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), a libertarian “think tank” funded by dark money, deep pocket donors, did something wholly inconsistent with its self-proclaimed mission of “exposing, defeating, and replacing the state’s socialist public policies.”
The IFF took help from the government, namely a $130,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan – since forgiven – that was part of the Trump Administration’s plan to stave off economic collapse due to the Covid pandemic.
These free-market gurus, who lobby like crazy while enjoying IRS status as a non-profit, public welfare “charity” organization, have become a force in Idaho conservative politics by helping drive the state’s Republican Party into a ditch of crazy conspiracy, medical misinformation and hatred of public education. Former Republican attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice Jim Jones has correctly called IFF an “extremist political outfit.”
But apparently extremism in the defense of hypocrisy is no vice. When IFF received its taxpayer money back in 2020, Wayne Hoffman, the lobbying group’s president was indignant that anyone would point out the irony – or was it the hypocrisy – of his anti-government, low tax group putting its Milton Friedman-like snout in the federal government trough.
IFF was, by the way, getting taxpayer cash at the same time it was working overtime to deprive health care for thousands of Idahoans, limit rent relief during the pandemic and make it harder for citizens to put an issue on the ballot. Freedom is clearly a one-way street.
When called on the PPP hypocrisy, Hoffman railed “fake news,” and insisted the government made him do it.
“The government shut down Idaho’s economy,” Hoffman said, “Idaho business, and therefore the donors who we depend on to generously support our work.”
Let us linger over those words: “the donors who we depend on …”
That statement baldly suggests the free marketers were in the same boat as millions of other Americans. A world-wide pandemic that has now claimed more than 900,000 American lives – IFF has militantly opposed public health efforts to contain the disease – was going to hurt the “think tank’s” bottom line. The PPP loan was a lifeline. A poor little free market charity was just being prudent in taking the government “handout” in violation of all of its stated beliefs since, well, they needed to make payroll. And lest we forget, five board members of IFF also received PPP loans.
But wait, there’s more.
Posted on the IFF’s website is a copy of the organization’s most recent Form 990, the annual filing with the Internal Revenue Service. And right there on page one, just below Hoffman’s name, is an accounting of the group’s prior year and current year “contributions and grants.”
In 2019, IFF pocketed over $708,000, but in 2020 – the year of the PPP loan when “donors who we depend on” were “shut down” – IFF reported more than $967,000 in contributions and grants, including the PPP loan.
In other words, the Freedom Foundation free marketers not only didn’t need your taxpayer dollars to match their previous year level of contributions, they actually exceeded their prior year take even without the forgiven taxpayer loan.
Like with so much else that attaches to the IFF – University of Idaho president Scott Green recently termed the group “conflict entrepreneurs” – Hoffman’s explanation for his PPP loan is a lie. Turns out Wayne’s conflict spreaders aren’t merely a public charity, but a charity case.
But before dismissing the lies and this hypocrisy – after all, what would conservative politics be these days without both – recall the real mission of Hoffman and his grifting team. They aim to destroy public education in Idaho, a state that already funds schools worse than any other state and that last year let IFF craft, as the U of I’s Green told legislative budget writers last month, “a false narrative” about higher education that cost the state’s institutions of higher learning $2.5 million last year – $1.5 million hit to Boise State University and a half million each to Idaho State and at Idaho’s land grant school, the University of Idaho.
Hoffman and a loyal group of his trained seals in the legislature have been pushing a fake narrative about “social justice” education, alleging that the impressionable minds of Idaho students are being “indoctrinated” with dangerous notions about equality and history. Green dismissed it as a lie, which it is.
“In short, the entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho was penalized $500,000 was a false narrative created by conflict entrepreneurs who make their living sowing fear and doubt with legislators and voters,” Green said, in what must count as one of the most straightforward and honest putdowns of Hoffman’s brand of grievance-based conspiracy politics ever uttered by a senior Idaho official.
Standing up to bullies and shysters who specialize in conflict requires guts, a commodity that is in dangerously short supply among Idaho elected officials. Many of them know that Hoffman’s grift – he pays himself $139,000 a year – is as phony as his PPP loan explanation. Yet, most conservatives – there are some growing exceptions – treat this dark money cesspool as though it were something legitimate. It’s not.
IFF is part of a network of more than 60 similar hard right and libertarian “think tanks” in every state, part of a web of influence peddlers called “The State Policy Network.” In Montana they fly under the “Frontier Institute” banner. In Oregon it’s the “Cascade Policy Institute.” In Wyoming they call themselves the “Wyoming Liberty Group.” The groups are all about demanding transparency for everyone other than themselves. Where their high six figure or larger budgets come from is a well-guarded secret.
The Guardian newspaper got its hands on grant applications in 2013 from more than 30 of these state-level “think tanks,” not Idaho’s, however. The paper reported that “the documents … cast light on the nexus of funding arrangements behind radical rightwing campaigns. The State Policy Network (SPN) has members in each of the 50 states and an annual war chest of $83 million drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, food giant Kraft and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.”
Add to that list “the American taxpayer” who helped pay Wayne Hoffman’s salary in 2020 so he could work full time spreading lies about education and educators. It’s a pretty clever con, but it’s still a con.
After reviewing those grant applications, The Guardian concluded the state-level “think tanks” were involved in a “coordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers’ compensation and the environment.”
Idaho policymakers are too often a little slow on the uptake, but these “conflict entrepreneurs” have once again exposed themselves for what they are: dishonest dividers with a nasty and ultimately destructive agenda for Idaho and every other state where they peddle their lies.
It’s way past time to give Hoffman and his cronies all the respect they deserve, which is zero.
A few things I stumbled across this week…
‘A deranged pyroscape’: how fires across the world have grown weirder
Coming to a neighborhood near you.
“Australians call the event Black Saturday – a scorched hole in the national diary. There, it contends with Red Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Black Thursday, Black Friday and Black Sunday on Australia’s calendar of conflagration. But recently it has been surpassed – they all have – by the Black Summer, the cataclysmic 2019-20 fire season that killed hundreds with its smoke and burned an area the size of Ireland. A study estimated that the bushfires destroyed or displaced 3 billion animals; its stunned lead author couldn’t think of any fire worldwide that had killed nearly so many.”
A frightening straight up take on climate change and fire from The Guardian:
What is ‘legitimate political discourse,’ and does it include the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol?
Quite the moment in American political history when the national Republican Party proclaimed the January 6 insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol “legitimate political discourse.”
Here is a good backgrounder.
“Persuasion, even in its most vigorous and aggressive form, is an invitation. When a person seeks to persuade someone else to agree with their viewpoint or values, or to recall or ignore history in a particular way, the recipient may choose to go along, or not.
“Coercion, on the other hand, is a kind of force – a command, not an invitation. Coercion denies others the freedom to choose for themselves whether to agree or disagree. Coercion and violence are anti-democratic because they deny others their ability to consent. Violence and coercion are the very opposite of legitimate political discourse.”
What Will It Take to Resuscitate American Democracy?
Regular readers know that I worry a lot – a lot – about this.
“The alarm has been rung, and often enough. Any American who can read knows that democracy is in crisis. The US government increasingly struggles to fulfill its most basic tasks, like guaranteeing the debt, passing budgets or confirming the diplomatic corps. Meanwhile armed groups of insurrectionists, like the one that stormed the US Capitol just over a year ago, spread incoherence. Think tanks on the right and universities on the left still debate policies like the tax rate or parental leave but they’re playacting by this point, whether they know it or not. They distract themselves with antiquities while the temple collapses around their shoulders. The questions have become much more basic than abstruse policy. Will democracy survive? How to keep America’s institutions alive?”
Worth your time from Stephen Marche:
That’s it for this week. I’ll sit back and with for the attacks from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. In politics – or writing about politics – you are known by your enemies, as they say. Stay well. All the best.