While advocating against “government handouts” during the coronavirus pandemic, the Idaho Freedom Foundation and a majority of its board members received more than $2 million of forgivable, government-backed loans.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) issued more than $500 billion in low-interest loans through August as part of the federal government’s unprecedented coronavirus pandemic response. These loans can be forgiven if businesses used most of the money for employee salaries and maintained similar staffing levels.
A recent court ruling opened the floodgates for new data on businesses that received less than $150,000 – something the U.S. Small Business Administration, which oversaw the program, had fought against.
As first reported by Mike Sharp of KIVI-TV, the Idaho Freedom Foundation received $129,883 in April. Classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the group heavily lobbies the Idaho legislature on issues of fiscal conservatism and limiting the role of government.
In a statement released on Facebook, its president, Wayne Hoffman, said Gov. Brad Little’s shutdown in April closed Idaho businesses, and in turn, dried up their ability to fundraise.
“Meanwhile, we also knew that pro-socialist groups would have no problem whatsoever accepting all the money they could from the government. We decided it only made sense to do the same,” Hoffman wrote. “That’s not our preference, of course, but the actions of the government left us little choice.”
In June, Hoffman wrote a column that in part criticized a rent and utilities relief program approved by state officials overseeing Idaho’s $1.25 billion in federal relief money, calling it a “government handout.”
“The program would pay an uncapped amount of money to cover each recipients’ rent and utilities, even though…it means taxpayers will very likely subsidize renters who made poor decisions, who spent too much for housing or kept the air conditioning running all the time,” he wrote.
Five of Idaho Freedom Foundation’s eight board members also applied for and received more than $2 million in PPP loans for their businesses ranging from agriculture to medical debt collection.
The Idaho Falls law firm, Smith, Driscoll and Associates, received $133,000, while the medical debt collection company Medical Recovery Services, received $72,200. Both are connected to Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith.
In an interview with Boise State Public Radio Thursday, Smith said he didn’t think the PPP shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
“But that’s the rules of the road. That’s what our government chose to do and we were hit by COVID like other businesses,” he said.
And the way they were hit economically, he says, was by “government overreach, government-created hysteria” in the response to the pandemic.
“[The PPP loan] is compensation for damages caused by the government in the first place. That’s unlike some other programs that exist where the government just hands out money having not damaged the individual in the first place,” Smith said.
Other Idaho Freedom Foundation board members whose businesses received loans include:
· Dar Symms, president and co-owner of Symms Fruit Ranch, which received nearly $1.4 million
· Chairman Brent Regan, founder and president of Regan Designs, which was awarded $74,800
· Bob Tikker, president of Tikker Engineering, which received $163,600
· Doyle Beck, founder of several Idaho businesses, including BECO, Inc, and Phenix Construction LLC, which received $168,200 combined
None of the men, aside from Smith, immediately returned requests for comment.