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Ammon Bundy pays himself thousands in campaign cash

Ammon Bundy standing on stairs outside the Idaho Statesman with two man standing on either side of him, one holding a sign that says "no immunity!"
Keith Ridler
/
AP
In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, Ammon Bundy, center, who led the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, stands on the Idaho Statehouse steps in Boise, Idaho. Mainstream and far-right Republicans are battling for control of the party and the state in deeply conservative Idaho.

Ammon Bundy, the anti-government activist running as an independent candidate to be Idaho’s next governor, has paid thousands of dollars in campaign donations to a company he owns.

According to campaign finance records, Bundy’s campaign has paid $13,500 in $1,500 monthly installments since June 1, 2021 to Abish-Husbondi Inc, a company incorporated in Wyoming.

The address listed on his campaign finance report traces back to a warehouse in Emmett where he’s held protests against, and in defiance of, Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order in early 2020. Gem County property records list Abish-Husbondi Inc as the owner of the three-acre property.

The company’s name appears to be a nod to Abish, a figure in the Book of Mormon who encounters the missionary Ammon. Husbondi is an Old Norse word said to mean “master of the house.”

Bundy is listed as the company’s president and sole officer in an annual report filed June 7, 2021.

Idaho law states that, in general, “A contribution shall not be converted by any person to personal use.”

However, the law appears silent on whether a candidate can contract with their own businesses. Explicitly prohibited activities include paying a candidate’s mortgage, utility bills, vacation or tuition with political donations.

“I am not aware of any active complaints in this area,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck in an email from late January. “The only time we would ask such a question of a campaign is on the back of a filed complaint specifically detailing alleged violations.”

Houck said Friday his office has yet to receive a complaint regarding these expenditures.

When asked about the payments to Abish-Husbondi Inc, Wendy Leatham, Bundy’s campaign manager, declined to say what they were for. They’re listed as general operational expenses in campaign finance records.

In an email Friday, Leatham said the campaign “follows all finance laws as administered by the Idaho Secretary of State.”

Bundy, who orchestrated the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016, announced his bid for governor last year. He initially said he would run for the Republican nomination, but instead chose to run as an independent in February.

Bundy’s campaign finance records also raise other transparency questions.

Freedom Tabernacle, a church incorporated in Idaho since 2011 owned by the vocal Bundy backer, Diego Rodriguez, donated $5,000 to the campaign Dec. 28, 2021.

A spokesperson for the Idaho Attorney General’s office said in an email that registered churches in Idaho aren’t prohibited from making political donations under state law.

But the federal Internal Revenue Service explicitly forbids 501(c)3 nonprofits from such political activity.

Freedom Tabernacle isn’t registered as a tax-exempt charity with the federal government, but churches that meet certain requirements are automatically considered 501(c)3 entities by the IRS.

Freedom Tabernacle also serves as the biller for online donations made to Bundy’s far-right People’s Rights network that boasts 50,000 members nationwide.

The church is part of a web of entities controlled by Rodriguez, a far-right pastor who’s spread misinformation about COVID-19 and called the vaccine the “CovAIDS jab.”

Under the Freedom Tabernacle banner, he operates:

· 4th Day Alliance, a ministry “dedicated to proclaiming the Glory of God through astronomy”

· Dominion Books, which publishes Rodriguez’s five books on faith

· Search & Study Bible Teaching Ministry

Rodriguez is also the founder and president of Power Marketing Consultants LLC, a marketing firm which lists his wife and five children as staff members.

His family each made $5,000 in-kind contributions – the maximum allowed by state law – on Dec. 27, 2021 to Bundy’s campaign totaling $30,000 for advertising preparation and production. Rodriguez added another $4,860 in-kind contribution that same day.

Bundy’s campaign paid Power Marketing Consultants $29,472.19 last year for advertising.

Rodriguez didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!