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OPINION: IFF files, Part 8: Donations and conversations

by MARY SOUZA/Uncanceled and Unfiltered
| April 5, 2023 1:00 AM

Idaho Freedom Foundation’s board member, Heather Lauer, tried to twist the truth and misstate my intentions. She wrote a quick response to my column last week, claiming I want to “expose and target Idaho residents who support charities, churches, or advocacy organizations.” NO, I do not. Current law does NOT require those donors to be publicly reported. Please let me restate this to be very clear: Under current law, donors to nonprofit groups in Idaho do NOT have their names reported to the public.

Several years ago I was on a legislative interim committee updating Idaho’s campaign finance requirements. As part of our review, we addressed nonprofits, like charities, churches and advocacy groups, which are registered as 501(c)3 with the IRS. These groups are not allowed to have political activities as their main purpose, per IRS rules, so they do not need to list their donors names publicly. I voted to continue this protection in Idaho.

Heather must want you to be confused. Her new organization, People United for Privacy Foundation is trying to change our state laws. Their recent fundraising letter (follow the money) is asking for donations so they can “protect” nonprofit donors from all kinds of terrible harassment. But those problems CANNOT happen in Idaho under our current law. Maybe they just want your money.

So why would she push for a law change? Perhaps both IFF and People United for Privacy Foundation are worried about the transparency reporting required for their OWN staff activities. For tax purposes, nonprofits like IFF and PUFPF are required to file a public form 990 each year, showing their total income, as well as some operating expenses, but not donor identities. If you were a donor to a nonprofit, wouldn’t you want to know how they spend your money? Are they effective in their mission or are they taking luxury cruises with your well-intentioned donation? (This is a made-up example.)

Who to believe? IFF and PUFPF are asking you for money. They use fear tactics so you will write them a big check. I am a very happily retired former state senator who served Idaho for eight years at $17,000 per year. I will not be running again for any elected office and am offering you free information, not asking for any money.

Now let’s talk about the legislative session! The House and Senate finally wrapped up their basic business today, March 31, but will be recessed until April 6. The five-day recess is because the governor has five days after receiving a bill to take action. He must either sign the bill into law, let the bill go into law without his signature (which sends a message that he doesn’t like it but will let it go), or he can veto the bill.

The Legislature will then return, on April 6, to consider any vetos and decide if they will override. It is not easy to override a veto. It takes a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate, and of course there can be political consequences for future bills if the governor is upset.

I’ve been watching some of the session and, as I referenced in my last column, it’s been chaotic. I’ve never seen so many bills pulled back out of the process to be re-written multiple times. Even when the bills made it to the Senate floor, many landed on the already long list of the amending order. This is partly the result of having so many new members, but also stems from the newbies’ attitudes, in my opinion. Some seemed to arrive with cocky attitudes of “we’ll show them how it's done.” But their tone has changed over the weeks. The process seems to be working, as it has for decades. It’s slow, and it takes many steps along the way for a bill to be passed. A bill’s success requires precise wording, all-important public input, and collaboration with peers, or nothing will get done.

I did see a glimmer of hope recently. I was watching the Senate floor debate on a bill that was very divided. It seemed to be the newbies against the incumbents, and everyone had an opinion. Then, one of the new senators stood up to ask the incumbent bill sponsor a question, “Can we change a few things in this bill to find a solution we can all live with?” The bill sponsor hesitated for a second, perhaps because the new group’s supporters have been viciously attacking him for months on social media, then the sponsor agreed to work together on a solution. That amended bill came up for a vote again, very quickly, within a day, and passed easily through the Senate. Many who had spoken against it originally, stood to praise the collaboration and changes, and to support the updated bill.

The system can work, especially when people are willing to respect each other, learn from each other, and listen to each other. The art of conversation, even if it does not end in full agreement, has always been alive and well in the Idaho Senate. Let’s keep it that way.

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Mary Souza, a Coeur d'Alene Republican, represented District 4 in the Idaho Senate for eight years from 2014 to 2022.

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