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OPINION: IFF files, Part 7: Don’t take our sunshine away

by MARY SOUZA/Uncanceled and Unfiltered
| March 29, 2023 1:00 AM

There’s a bold new strategy in Idaho politics: Avoid reporting donations. Idaho’s new People United for Privacy Foundation (PUFPF) wants increased privacy for donations to “protect free speech,” and by speech they mean money. This group is led by Heather Lauer, one of the founding, and still current, board members of the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF). “Without the new foundation,” Heather writes, “You and I are at risk of being exposed to politically motivated harassment.”

What Heather may not realize is that IFF is the main source of significant harassment for many of our elected law makers.

During my past six weekly columns, I’ve explained how IFF is not who they say they are, and what they believe is not what you might think. They are an Authoritarian group, way to the alt-right of Republican values, and are hellbent on controlling our Idaho government. They are stealing your voting power by intimidating your elected legislators into obeying IFF, not you.

IFF avoids transparency for their organization at all cost, while claiming their mission is government accountability. It’s a shell game with them, and they keep moving the parts and players around the board so no one will realize that while they beg for your donations, they are covertly grabbing for your ballot.

This People United for Privacy Foundation sent a long fundraising letter recently. The tone and style of the letter was just like IFF’s. Lots of fear and threats of scary scenarios with what they call blacklists, doxing and shaming, none of which have happened to nonprofits in Idaho. These letters are almost certainly written by national marketing groups, trying to gin up money because they get a percentage of every dollar donated. Of course the letter ends with why you must donate money to their group. “We’ll use your generous gift to educate lawmakers and pressure them into doing the right thing for Idahoans.”

So what do they see as the actual problem in Idaho political donations right now? If you are a nonprofit organization, you do not have to report your donors’ names or addresses. These nonprofits only have to file a tax form once a year, form 990, which shows how much money was donated to their group, and some basic info on who runs the organization, plus a few categories of spending, like “salaries, housing, travel,” etc. IFF has both 501(c)3 and (c)4 nonprofits. So why are they worried about harassment? Is it because we can look at the form 990 and find out that Wayne Hoffman was paid $139,400 in 2020?

A private foundation such as PUFPF, is treated like a nonprofit in its reporting. No public listing of donors is required. So perhaps IFF and PUFPF are not worried about protecting the privacy of their donors, maybe they are trying to hide their own activities.

It’s also telling that Heather Lauer and the new Privacy Foundation have hired former IFF VP Dustin Hurst. You remember Dustin from my column on the people of IFF. Here’s that excerpt:

“Recent IFF VP Dustin Hurst is quite a personality on social media. He openly talks about being a Libertarian. He claims the IFF’s score index is great because the people Dustin has deemed not conservative enough, hate it. He says “They abhor it because it strips them of their power to control the narrative.” Who should control the narrative, Dustin? The non-elected IFF, or the legislators elected by the voters?

Dustin recently needed self-soothing on social media when he cried “No one understands how hard I worked to unseat the Senate GOP clowns. I promise to work twice as hard next time.” Then he went on to threaten six senators, by name, claiming they “better enjoy the next two years, they won’t get two more.” Is this something the Idaho Lobby corps allows their members to do? Dustin was already fined $250 by the SOS for lobbying without registering as such, and now public threats to sitting senators?

Dustin is changing jobs but isn’t going away. He will be working for the IFF PAC and also for People United for Privacy Foundation, assisting them with fundraising. I hope this is not to hide their big donors, we need transparency in Idaho.”

(Let me insert a personal note here: After the column about IFF’s people, Dustin messaged me this one sentence: “You are a bad person.” That was his whole message.)

I think there are two important elements missing from Idaho politics right now: Integrity and Transparency. The KCRCC/IFF and now PUFPF, are on a rampage to take away both. One of their faithful followers was heard explaining their mantra: “We don’t care about integrity, we only care about winning.” This is how we ended up with so many ineffective legislators this session. They were selected and endorsed because they would follow orders, not because they had the intelligence and integrity to think for themselves and their districts.

If we don’t elect leaders with integrity, we will end up with what is happening in the Idaho Legislature right now: Chaos. Last Friday was the target date for ending the session. But that’s not going to happen for quite awhile. The Senate reading calendar, as I write this column, shows a long list of more than 80 bills to consider and vote upon, as well as 43 governor’s appointments to various boards and committees awaiting approval.

So, Heather and Wayne, Idaho has good donation reporting laws, and we should work toward more transparency, not less. Sunshine cleans up the shadows and integrity keeps it clean.

As always, please be careful with your donations and your votes. Think for yourselves.

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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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