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OPINION: The business of politics

by BRENT REGAN/Common Sense
| January 5, 2024 1:00 AM

The most powerful lobbying agency in Idaho is unknown to most Idaho voters. This organization wields enormous power and influence over every state elected official. How do we know this? None of them will openly criticize, or even talk about it. 

In 1974 the Idaho State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Idaho merged to form the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, or IACI, whose mission is to generate prosperity for the state of Idaho by creating a favorable environment in which business and industry can prosper. This is a worthy goal; however it does have some side effects. 

IACI’s priority is business and often the priorities of business conflict with the freedoms of the individual taxpayer. For example, having a supply of trained workers is good for business so having the Idaho LAUNCH program pay students $8,000 in tuition to be trained for “in-demand careers” means business and students don’t have to pay for the training. You pay for it instead. You are underwriting the prosperity of others based on the theory that the collective is more important than you the individual. This should remind you of socialism. 

Similarly the Medicaid Expansion was very good for Idaho’s medical industry. The Medicaid program is rapidly expanding, closing on a billion dollars in annual cost to you the taxpayer. Never mind that 40% is reportedly wasted or spent paying ineligible claims. Think of all the jobs it creates.  

Big business can use big government to reduce competition though regulation and licensing and to increase profitability through tax breaks and incentives. Businesses exist to grow and prosper so it should come as no surprise that business will use government to advantage business even if it is at the expense of your individual freedom and prosperity. Business should use every tool available, but there needs to be balanced.

IACI’s membership now includes over 200 of the top Idaho industries, collectively with over 200,000 employees. That is a large voting bloc. Member companies pay a percentage of their payroll as dues to IACI, which can top over $12,000 per year. Maximum dues payers are eligible for a seat in the IACI Board of Directors so Idaho’s largest companies sit on the IACI board.

IACI’s Political Action Committee, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, receives regular donations from Idaho largest corporations and organizations such as Idaho Power, Blue Cross of Idaho, J.R. Simplot Company, Micron Technology, Potlatch Deltic, BNSF Railway, Regence BlueShield of Idaho, Idaho Association of Realtors, etc. who collectively donate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.  

These monies are spent mostly as independent expenditures to support candidates who align with IACI’s legislative agenda. There are donation limits on how much money can be given directly by a single organization to a particular candidate, typically $1,000 for a state race. There are two ways to get around these limits. One way is through independent expenditures which are monies spent to support a candidate, usually through advertising, without the direct coordination with the candidate. If you want to spend $100,000, 100 times more than the donation limit, promoting a candidate it is legal to do so if you do not “coordinate” your efforts with that candidate.

The other way is to get your “friends” to donate the maximum allowed to the candidates. If you review the Campaign Finance Sunshine reports you will find that the highly rated IACI candidates often have maximum donations from multiple IACI member businesses. 

IACI’s influence in Idaho politics is unmatched. There are 17 legislators who received a 100% rating from IACI, 13 are in the Idaho Senate and all of them are in leadership or are chairmen or vice-chairmen of powerful committees. Gov. Little spent 20 years on the IACI board and served as its chairman. 

Fifteen years ago the Idaho Freedom Foundation was formed as a free market think tank with the goal of serving the least represented special interest, you, the Idaho citizen. Boise is full of lobbyists representing every imaginable special interest and king among these is IACI. But until the IFF was born, there was no one to consistently remind the legislators that they represent the citizens of Idaho and not the special interests. 

IFF’s main product is the Freedom Index which measures if a legislator favors personal freedom or big government. To create the Freedom Index, bills introduced to the legislature are rated against 12 metrics (available on the IFF website). If a bill grows government, raises taxes, or creates a new bureaucracy or regulation, it receives a low score. If a bill reduces taxes, limits regulation, or shrinks government it receives a high score. When a legislator votes for that bill they accumulate that bill’s score. 

It surprised no one when a recent study showed that legislators that received a high Freedom Index score typically received a low IACI score or that the Republican legislators who received a high IACI score voted in lockstep with the Democrats.

The power of the Freedom Index has grown along with the conservative movement in Idaho. This trend is a concern to proponents of big government as is evidenced by the propaganda campaign against the IFF and conservative legislators. Progressive talking heads spout the same tired tropes of “extremist,” “white nationalists,” “anti-Semitic,” “dark money,” “soviet,” bla, bla, bla. It’s as if the media dumped a bag of epithets on the table for the critics to construct another mindless diatribe. Tellingly, these trolls will never utter a harsh word toward IACI.  

With legions of lobbyists roaming the capitol representing countless pleading special interests, as Idaho citizens we can take a measure of comfort knowing at least the Idaho Freedom Foundation is working for us; our David fighting the Goliath.

It’s just common sense. 

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Brent Regan is chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee and chairman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation Board of Directors.