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Freedom Foundation accused of disobeying IRS rules by encouraging Idahoans to disobey governor

Idaho

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Several Idaho conservative groups organized a rally Friday to protest Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order. Hundreds of people gathered at the Idaho Capitol in open defiance of the order, which was prompted by the coronavirus outbreak. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

IDAHO FALLS (Idaho Statesman) — A complaint has been filed with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the activities of an Idaho nonprofit organization for possible violations of federal rules under which a nonprofit must operate.

The complaint alleges Idaho Freedom Foundation, a libertarian policy group, violated nonprofit organization rules by “supporting illegal activities” and “engaging in excessive lobbying activities.”

The IRS designated Idaho Freedom Foundation a tax-exempt 501(c)3 “public charity” organization in 2009. To keep its tax-exempt status, it must follow certain rules.

“As a lifelong nonprofit executive, I am fully aware that charitable organizations are not supposed to engage in excessive lobbying,” Carrie Scheid of Idaho Falls, who filed the complaint, told the Statesman.

After retiring a few years back, Scheid said she started following the Idaho Legislature’s activities and “was astonished to see that the Idaho Freedom Foundation was so heavily involved in state politics when they hold a 501c3 charitable status. “

“But what prompted me to finally file a complaint was when I saw them encouraging people to violate the governor’s stay-at-home order,” she said. “Engaging in illegal activities and planning and sponsoring illegal activities are incompatible with IRS rules for charity.”

Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman scoffed at the complaint.

“Like all the previous bogus allegations leveled at us over the last dozen years, the complainant clearly doesn’t understand the law,” he told the Statesman on Monday.

FOUNDATION ENCOURAGED ‘DISOBEY IDAHO’ PROTEST

“On its website and social media platforms, the Idaho Freedom Foundation encouraged Idahoans to violate Governor Little’s statewide pandemic ‘stay-at-home order,” Scheid’s complaint to the IRS states.

After Idaho Gov. Brad Little on April 15 extended the statewide stay-home through April 30 to try and curb a nationwide coronavirus outbreak, the Idaho Freedom Foundation started encouraged people to disobey the order.

“This is the moment patriots have warned us about,” Hoffman said in a video posted to social media April 15. “You have to disobey.”

“Remember, there are more of us than there are of them,” Hoffman added.

The foundation helped organized the “Disobey Idaho” protest held April 17 at the Idaho Capitol, which a few hundred people attended.

“We do not consent to our state being shut down. We do not consent to forced imprisonment,” stated an announcement for the event, which also was promoted by Idaho Second Amendment Alliance and Health Freedom Idaho. “All businesses are essential. Idahoans have a fundamental right to provide for their families. Government cannot interfere with natural rights,”

Under Little’s emergency order, “Gatherings of individuals outside the home are prohibited, with certain exceptions for essential activities or essential travel or to perform work for essential businesses and government agencies or perform essential infrastructure work … All people in Idaho shall immediately cease hosting or participating in all public and private gatherings and multiperson activities for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, regardless of the number of people involved.”

Since that protest, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has continued to organize, promote or participate in several stay-at-home violations.

“Looking for ways to disobey the stay-home order? Look no further,” IFF states in an April 19 post to its social media account, where it provides commentary and updates on disobeying the governor’s order.

Idaho Freedom Foundation and Health Freedom Idaho anti-vaccine activist Sara Brady came under the national spotlight April 21.

After repeatedly refusing police orders to leave a Meridian park playground, closed by the city due to coronavirus concerns, where she was a holding a “play date” with children, Brady yelled out “Call Idaho Freedom Foundation” as police were arresting her for trespassing.

Immediately following Brady’s arrest, IFF Communications Director Dustin Hurst posted a video to the organization’s social media page calling for an immediate protest to “gridlock” the road at Meridian City Hall.

“Bring your cars, bring your trucks,” Hurst said. “Put the Gadsden Flag on and your middle fingers up if you feel the need.”

The Revolution-era yellow Gadsden flag, which shows a coiled rattlesnake over the phrase “Don’t tread on me” has become a modern-day symbol for government overreach.

Hurst added, “I don’t care if we are in a pandemic or not, we are not going to live in an America where it is OK to arrest people or ticket people,” for violating the stay-home order.

Also in the video, Hurst said there was “one officer that just went too far and his picture and name are shared on our Facebook page, if, you know, you want to let Meridian PD know how you feel,” referring to an officer involved in Brady’s arrest.

Idaho Freedom Foundation removed that post shortly after posting it, but later that evening, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and more than a dozen other people went to the officer’s house to protest his actions.

IFF disavowed any connection to that protest.

“The Idaho Freedom Foundation supports those who peaceably assemble to protest Idaho’s senseless stay-home order as well as related orders from local government officials. We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with Idahoans to defend our unalienable rights. We will continue to do so until the order is lifted,” Hoffman wrote. “We do not condone or endorse actions against law enforcement officials at their homes, such as the one (April 21).”

Some accused Brady and the foundation of staging the park trespass arrest. IFF has denied this, and on April 24, Brady issued a public apology to Meridian police for her actions.

The day after Brady’s arrest, April 22, the Idaho Freedom Foundation hosted a “disobey dodgeball” event at a Boise city park basketball court closed due to coronavirus concerns. Several dozen people attended the event in violation of the city’s order.

Additionally, on Easter Sunday, Hoffman attended an Easter service in Emmett organized by Ammon Bundy in violation of the stay-home order.

Promoting and participating in violating the governor’s emergency declaration amounts to illegal activity, which nonprofit organizations cannot do, Scheid explained.

EXCESSIVE LOBBYING

Scheid also wants the IRS to investigate Idaho Freedom Foundation for overstepping IRS rules on lobbying activity.

“In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation, commonly known as lobbying” the IRS states. “A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.”

According to IRS definitions, direct lobbying refers to attempting to influence a legislative body through communication with a member or employee of a legislative body. Grass roots lobbying refers to “attempts to influence legislation by attempting to affect the opinion of the public with respect to the legislation and encouraging the audience to take action with respect to the legislation.”

Scheid alleges one way the foundation directly attempts to influence legislation is through its “Freedom Index,” which grades how each Idaho legislator’s voting record meshes with IFF’s agenda.

“The Idaho Freedom Foundation spends a lot of their resources influencing legislators on how to vote,” Scheid told the IRS in her complaint.

Scheid explains how lobbying has changed this century. In the 20th century, lobbying consisted mainly of phone calls, face to face meetings and testimony at hearings.

“But social media has changed all that,” she stated. “The IFF uses social media to pressure Idaho legislators to vote consistent with their published scores on bills that the IFF’s either supports or opposes.

“The IFF then scores the legislators on how they vote and shares that information with thousands of voters through social media,” Scheid continued. “As a result of this political lobbying pressure, many Idaho legislators are reluctant to vote against IFF’s interests.”

IDAHO FREEDOM FOUNDATION INFLUENCE

One prominent Idaho businessman says he recently learned about IFF’s influence.

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot told EastIdahoNews.com he got “a big education” about the foundation when he visited Boise earlier this year to advocate for legislation.

VanderSloot says he learned about the foundation’s tactics when he met with lawmakers in January to discuss the Idaho Patient Act, a bill that offers transparency in medical billing and puts some regulations on medical debt collection practices. The bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Little.

RELATED: VanderSloot expresses concerns about the Idaho Freedom Foundation, protests and ‘the club’

The Melaleuca CEO said most senators and representatives supported the legislation, but there was a group who voted against it because it hurt the business of Rep. Bryan Zollinger (R-33). Zollinger works for Medical Recovery Services, a medical debt collection business based in Idaho Falls, according to the April 27 article.

“We met with one lawmaker and were told, ‘We are really upset with you because you are taking on one of the members of the club,’” VanderSloot told EastIdahoNews.com. “He said, ‘We’re a club here. Don’t mess with the club. We are all together and that’s how we do things around here.’”

RELATED: Freedom Foundation responds to VanderSloot, says group is defending liberty

Hoffman has said lawmakers do use materials provided by the foundation to make decisions.

“This year, lawmakers talked about the Idaho Freedom Index in public meetings more than a dozen times,” Hoffman writes in the organization’s 2020 index report. “Finally, lobbyists, who once scoffed at the Index, beat a path to our office seeking assistance to improve their legislation.”

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