Idaho Power Co.’s vice president for public affairs said Thursday that the company gave $1,000 to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, but that doesn’t mean it is fully aligned with the group’s libertarian and tea party agenda.
I reported Thursday that the company is a silver sponsor of IFF’s July 19 annual banquet — the first old-line company to publicly support the group that began operations in 2009. Idaho Power President and CEO LaMont Keen and his wife, Vicki, are gold sponsors and gave to IFF as individuals in 2011.
Keen and Vice President for Public Affairs Jeff Malmen didn’t reply to requests for comment Tuesday and Wednesday, but Malmen provided a written statement Thursday.
“Idaho Power and its employees participate in hundreds of community events,” Malmen wrote. “It is inappropriate to categorize participation in any particular event as alignment by Idaho Power with all views of an organization or its members. Idaho Power’s modest contribution to purchase a table at the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s dinner featuring Judge Andrew Napolitano is one example. Support for these community activities is not included in rates paid by our customers.”
Malmen declined to elaborate on issues where it differs with IFF. The foundation is a leading opponent of establishing a state-run health insurance exchange. During the 2012 Legislature, IFF helped squash a bill supported by Gov. Butch Otter’s insurance director and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Keen is a member of the IACI board.
Hoffman said Thursday that Idaho Power is not the only old-guard company to support IFF, though it is the only one willing to disclose support publicly.
“I think we have two that meet that criteria and have been consistent givers since 2010,” Hoffman said, adding that two more old-line companies gave in 2012. He said those contributions total about $5,000.
Idaho Public Utilities Commission Chairman Paul Kjellander said Idaho Power can not get ratepayers to cover the gift. Spending on memberships to the Arid Club, dues to trade groups, political contributions and lobbying must be paid by shareholders, not customers of the regulated monopoly.
“It’s off the table,” Kjellander said. “If anyone tried to incorporate those costs the intervenors (customers) would come unglued.”
Hoffman said Thursday that IFF is not a political organization. To keep its tax-exempt status, it can spend no more than 20 percent of its budget on lobbying. In 2011, IFF spent $10,920 on direct lobbying of the Legislature, or 3 percent of its $350,348 in expenses, according to its tax return.
“The rest is education,” Hoffman said. “We engage in public policy within the confines of Idaho law and federal tax code, and that includes lobbying.”
Hoffman said IFF doesn’t disclose donor information without permission: “Keeping support secret is honoring the wishes of the donors.”
IFF does disclose major donations to the IRS, but not donors’ names. In 2010, five donors gave $432,600 of $504,575 raised, with one giving $195,000 and another $190,000. In 2011, 10 donors gave $225,500 of $357,879 in support, with the top giver at $60,000.
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