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IRS Complaint Filed Against Idaho Freedom Foundation For Stay At Home Order Protests

wayne_hoffman_idaho_freedom_foundation.jpeg
Idaho Freedom Foundation

The tax-exempt status of one of Idaho’s most controversial and influential political groups is being questioned over accusations of flouting federal nonprofit rules.

Carrie Scheid of Idaho Falls filed the complaint with the IRS last week, saying the Idaho Freedom Foundation was promoting illegal activities and skirting lobbying restrictions.

That includes recent protests the group sponsored, according to Scheid, which urged people to “disobey” the governor’s stay-at-home order. Violating that order is a misdemeanor crime under state law.

“Nonprofits cannot be involved in illegal activities and they cannot encourage, plant or sponsor illegal activities. It’s totally incompatible with IRS rules,” she said.

When asked for comment, Idaho Freedom Foundation president Wayne Hoffman pointed to a statement he gave the Idaho Statesman, which first reported this story.

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

An advantage of being a tax-exempt 501c3 nonprofit is you don’t have to disclose your donors. Their contributions are also tax deductible. The designation is reserved for charitable, religious and educational organizations, among others.

Political groups typically fall into the 501c4 category, which allows for much more advocacy work. Donors are still generally shielded from having their names disclosed, but they can’t get a tax break on their contributions.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation has sponsored several protests over the past few weeks, including one that drew hundreds of people to the Idaho Capitol in Boise shortly after Gov. Brad Little (R) extended his stay-at-home order April 15.

“You have to disobey,” Hoffman said during a Facebook Live broadcast shortly after Little’s announcement.

“There are more of us than there are of them,” he said at the time.

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Credit Heath Druzin / Boise State Public Radio
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Boise State Public Radio
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Idaho Capitol earlier this month to push back against Gov. Brad Little's stay-at-home order.

After calling Boise Mayor Lauren McLean a “petty tyrant” for putting up fencing around Rhodes Skate Park and removing basketball hoops, the organization put on a “Disobey Dodgeball” protest last week at a local park.

It also urged people across the state to hold their own yard sales this past weekend to push back against Rathdrum Police after they cited a woman there for hosting one, though the department says it gave her several warnings that it violated the governor’s order.

Scheid is retired now, but spent her career in nonprofits. She and her husband, Jerry, have also written columns for local newspapers in Idaho, some of them criticizing the Idaho Freedom Foundation's positions.

While she said she says the group is more conservative than she is, they shouldn't be classified as a 501c3 organization.

"...let them do whatever they want. I encourage them to speak their voice," Scheid said.

In her complaint to the IRS, she also accuses the Idaho Freedom Foundation of lobbying more than they’re legally allowed to do as a tax-exempt 501c3 nonprofit.

Organizations with such a federal designation are only allowed to lobby if it’s not a “substantial” part of its overall activities.

Fred Birnbaum, the group’s vice president, is a common audience member at legislative hearings and frequently testifies on bills before committees.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation also grades lawmakers based on votes they take on certain bills in their annual “Freedom Index,” the results of which are shared on social media, noting whether legislators pass or fail.

“You can’t tell me that putting a social media post like that doesn’t influence the legislator,” Scheid said.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s most recent tax filing shows they’ve spent $62,849 on lobbying activities from 2015 through 2018, which is below federal limits calculated based on the organization’s total expenditures.

The group has come under fire recently after it posted the name and photo of an officer who arrested Sara Brady, the woman who staged a protest at a Meridian playground with several other families

The post was taken down soon after. But that didn’t stop Ammon Bundy, one of the men who occupied a federal wildlife reserve in Oregon in 2016, from going with dozens of people to the officer’s home that night.

“We do not condone or endorse actions against law enforcement officials at their homes, such as the one last night,” Hoffman said in a Facebook post the following day. “We say that recognizing that some of our dear friends were there with the best of intentions.”

Parrish Miller, an analyst who worked on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Index this year, asked followers on his personal Facebook page the night of Brady’s arrest to show up to a protest at Meridian City Hall.

“…the Nazi collaborators in Meridian need to be confronted by an army of heavily armed citizens who won't tolerate their tyranny any longer,” he wrote.

The following morning, Miller wrote, “There is absolutely no room for equivocation on this matter. If you support the state's mercenaries detaining, chaining, and caging a mother for taking her children to the park, you are on the side of evil. You are an enemy of liberty and you are therefore my enemy.”

Later that day, he posted, “Just remember, shooting someone who is attempting to kidnap you is ALWAYS justified,” adding in the comments that “there is nothing wrong with hunting down active kidnappers to bring them to justice.”

When asked for comment on those posts, Hoffman said Miller was not an Idaho Freedom Foundation employee and that he was hired to mostly work on the group’s Freedom Index. “You will have to ask him about his Facebook posts,” Hoffman said.

Miller didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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