It took three years, but the group now has the public support of one of Idahos most venerable and influential institutions.
Its a little surprising, but maybe itll give the Freedom Foundation more clout, said Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, who is among the sponsors of the foundations 3rd Annual Idaho Freedom Celebration and Banquet in Garden City on July 19.
Thayn said he and his wife, Sherry, paid $500 to be listed as bronze sponsors. Idaho Power is a silver sponsor, and LaMont Keen, the companys president and CEO, and his wife, Vicki, are gold sponsors. The Keens backed last years banquet as individuals, but the compa-ny did not appear on the 2011 sponsor list.
IFF was founded in 2009, but until now Idahos traditional business powers had kept their distance. Republican Gov. Butch Otter wrote a fundraising appeal for the group last year, and GOP Sen. Mike Crapo did the same this year.
Keen did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday. The companys vice president for public affairs, Jeff Malmen, did not return calls Tuesday or Wednesday. Malmen is a former chief of staff to Otter and former GOP Gov. Phil Batt.
Look, were a growing organization, and were an organization that people find has value, said IFF Executive Director Wayne Hoffman. I have a lot of respect for Idaho Power and for LaMont and Vicki Keen. Great company. Great people.
Hoffman, a former Statesman reporter, was a spokesman for former GOP Congressman Bill Sali and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Luna and Otter attended last years banquet, which drew about one-quarter of the Republicans in the Legislature.
Founded in 1916, Idaho Power has leaned Republican but supported Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus in the 1980s and 1990s. The company is a leading force in the states biggest business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Earlier this year, IFF helped kill an effort by IACI to create a state-run health insurance exchange.
IACI President Alex LaBeau said Idaho Powers support might be a result of an enticing July program at the Riverside Hotel. Speakers for the $50 dinner are Fox TV commentator Andrew Napolitano and Frank VanderSloot, CEO of Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca. Both are very good speakers, and thats attractive to corporate donors, LaBeau said.
Still, Idaho Power is the only old-guard sponsor. The three other corporate backers are Internet Truckstop of Fruitland, DJM Sales & Marketing of Garden City, and Molitor & Associates, a small Boise-based lobbying firm.
Hoffman declined to specify the sponsorship levels, citing privacy concerns.
IFF has been an ally of Idaho Power in opposing subsidies for green energy, but Hoffman bristled when asked about issues uniting IFF and the states most powerful regulated monopoly.
I dont like manipulation of the free market, Hoffman said. I dont look around the room to see whos supporting what before I decide what direction were going to go. If youre thinking our donors are giving money for a position on some piece of legislation, theyre not.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, agreed with Thayn that Idaho Powers contribution is a surprise, but he speculated that IFFs growing influence is attractive. In the 2012 session, Hoffman helped kill a bill by Rusche that would have barred the use of commercial tanning beds by children younger than 16 without parental consent.
I can see Idaho Power trying to increase their leverage, but it bothers me as a ratepayer, Rusche said.
Idaho Public Utilities Commission spokesman Gene Fadness said the PUC will not approve political spending to be paid by ratepayers; that money will have to come from shareholders.
The commission is very careful to review any sort of political or promotional expenditures because we know the customers are very sensitive about that, he said.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics