Through its controversial stances on education and its influence on the Idaho state legislature, The Idaho Freedom Foundation has garnered both adamant supporters and outspoken critics. Some believe the think tank and its lobbying arm to be the most influential in the state.
BYU-Idaho Radio talked to Founder and President Wayne Hoffman about the organization and its recent criticism. He helped start the Idaho Freedom Foundation in 2009 after seeing ‘small government think tanks’ in other states.
“I thought that it (Idaho) could benefit from that kind of a presence, from that kind of a voice,” Hoffman said.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation is a 501 (c3) non-profit. According to the IRS, a non-profit cannot influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities or endorse candidates. On its website, IFF rates bills, and legislators receive scores based on how they vote on those bills. However, Hoffman says the organization works within its bounds.
“There are plenty of non-profit organizations that do work with lawmakers and convey their opinions on a variety of different legislation,” Hoffman said.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation has gained a reputation for opposing funding for public education. The Idaho State Constitution states that it is the legislature’s duty to, “maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Hoffman believes this wording should be changed.
“If I could wave a magic wand, I would cut the budgets for the education system and allow the money to remain in the economy in the pockets of parents so that they could then make a selection without having to have any role from government,” Hoffman said.
Because Hoffman does not have a magic wand, the IFF has proposed a different plan- education savings accounts. Parents would be able to spend these funds on education options from home schooling to education pods, charter schools or even private schools.
The organization has also successfully advocated for higher education budget cuts. Last year the legislature cut $2.5 million in higher education funding over claims of indoctrination and critical race theory being taught in schools. The Idaho Freedom Foundation has spoken openly in opposition to critical race theory and what they call, “social justice indoctrination.”
The Idaho Freedom Foundation has also received criticism over its influence on legislators and their policy decisions. When asked if he or any other members of the IFF have sent emails, texts or messages to legislators while a bill is being debated on the floor or in committee, Hoffman’s answer was simple.
“Of course!” Hoffman said. “And so do other lobbyists, and they’ve been doing it forever. Back before there was text messages and emails, you know what lobbyists used to do? They’d actually pass notes to legislators.”
Hoffman sees the Idaho Freedom Foundation as a group that keeps government small and fights socialism.
“There are very few forces in government that are working to keep government small, that are working to battle socialism, and we’re one of those,” Hoffman said.