Political satire of the Idaho legislature.

IACI: the Powerful Lobby Group with Massive Sway in Idaho Politics

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Viewpoint Article by Brian Almon of Ada County, Idaho

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Former Idaho GOP state chair Trent Clark said something really interesting recently. In a debate with conservative activist Steven Gaston, that is now buried in the depths of Facebook, Clark stated, “our current government is beholden to the businesses that are thriving in this political environment.”

Trent Clark comments to Steven Gaston during a Facebook discussion.

Clark later clarified on Facebook that he was not referring to the big corporations that influence state politics through the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), but rather small businesses that thrive in a low regulation, less tax environment:

‘The environment’ of Idaho to which reference was made is the Idaho that scores lowest in the nation on regulation, in the lowest five on tax burden, and with the best bang per buck in public education. And the “businesses” were simple farmers, ranchers, sole proprietors, small businesses with three employees (like my own business). These are the businesses that thrive on low regulation, less tax, and quality education.

Trent Clark, Facebook, December 24, 2023

Nevertheless, Clark perhaps unwittingly spoke a fundamental truth of Idaho politics: that the businesses which thrive in the current political and economic environment, whether large or small, have a vested interest in maintaining it, and therefore engage in political action to do so.

My definition of the political establishment is a group of politicians and organizations who have found success in the existing system, and so they work to perpetuate that same system. Therefore, Clark’s statement is correct in that big businesses which have benefited from the current system are invested in maintaining the system.

When our federal and state governments were much smaller, businesses invested in themselves by hiring the best workers, training them, and providing them with the equipment necessary to succeed. Today, businesses invest in lobbyists and campaign contributions to shape a government that will pass beneficial regulations or enact direct subsidies from taxpayers.

Republicans have long believed in free enterprise, rejecting the socialist vision of a command economy. The great Republican president Calvin Coolidge said that the business of America is business, and Ronald Reagan often contrasted the wonders of the free market with the inefficiencies of big government. On the other hand, another Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, recognized that when businesses become too powerful, they can infringe upon the rights of the people just as easily as the government can.

That is where we are today. Corporations in large part no longer serve the interests of the public, or even the interests of their customers. Rather, corporations are in thrall to the high priests of Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI), which prioritize left-wing indoctrination over creating useful and profitable products. American companies also have no qualms about outsourcing jobs to China, India, or other developing nations to save a few pennies, and some have even forced American workers to train their foreign replacements. Many of the same companies fired American workers for not wearing masks or taking experimental vaccines.

In many cases, big corporations pose an even greater threat to freedom than the government, as the government uses these companies to do what it cannot. The Twitter Files revealed how intelligence agencies worked within social media platforms to censor speech and shape narratives, such as when Facebook and Twitter refused to allow anyone to share the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Closer to home, we see how the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare essentially functions as the marketing arm for large pharmaceutical companies, which blurs the line between government and private enterprise.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare pro-coronavirus vaccination campaign advertisement on Facebook.

It is no surprise that conservatives have become skeptical of big businesses. Nevertheless, our current government remains beholden to them.

In 1953, General Motors President Charles Wilson, who had been nominated as Secretary of Defense by President Dwight Eisenhower, said, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” This came only a few years after the federal government partnered with big corporations like GM to produce the machinery that won World War II. Today, many Idaho politicians might well say that what is good for Micron is good for Idaho, and vice versa.

Idaho businesses are tremendously invested in the arena of state government. Big corporations and coalitions spend an enormous amount of money on campaigns, PACs, and lobbying. At the center of this confluence of money and politics is the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), a powerful lobby group representing many big and small businesses in the Gem State.

Both Trent Clark himself and Governor Brad Little are past chairmen of IACI, so they naturally see the lobby as a friend and ally. Little even spoke at the most recent IACI Public Policy Conference in Twin Falls. IACI opposed the Coronavirus Pause Act of 2022, which was designed to protect against employment discrimination based on vaccination status, so Little dutifully vetoed it, appealing to Republican principles of limited government:

I am vetoing this legislation because I am a lifelong advocate of limited government, and Senate Bill 1381 significantly expands government overreach into the private sector.

Governor Brad Little, March 28, 2022

On the other hand, Little has not seen a tax break, subsidy, or regulatory carve out that he didn’t like, which calls into question his belief that government should not overreach into the private sector. If telling businesses they cannot fire employees for refusing an experimental vaccine is not okay, why is it acceptable to pass legislation to transfer your tax dollars to the same businesses?

Last session’s House Bill 24 (HB24), the Idaho Launch Grant, is the latest example. Under this bill, high school graduates will be given $8,000 from taxpayers to spend on college or workforce training for certain in-demand careers. Which careers are considered in-demand? Why, those determined by the Workforce Development Council, made up of legislators and business leaders appointed by Governor Little. It was no surprise that IACI lobbied in favor of HB24. Why pay to train your own workers if you can get the taxpayer to do it for you?

Rep. Blanksma gives testimony in committee on House Bill 24, the Idaho Launch Grant, during the 2023 legislative session.

It is absolutely fair to say that the Idaho Launch Grant is a transfer of money from the taxpayer to big business special interests using high school graduates as the bagmen.

Senate Bill 1211 (SB1211) was even more blatant. This was an appropriations bill that covered $146 million in cash transfers between different government accounts, including $15 million into the Workforce Development Council for semiconductor manufacturing. This, you see, is how they get away with giving money directly to certain corporations without specifically naming them, by using such narrow definitions so as to only fit one company. This bill was a direct transfer from the taxpayer to Micron, and a significant return on investment for IACI’s contributions to candidates, PACs, and lobbyists.

Scroll through the Sunshine reports for the governor, legislative leadership, and the PACs that support them and you’ll see massive donations by nearly every big corporation and corporate association in Idaho. This is apparently how business is done these days.

HB24 only passed the house by one vote, which surely has IACI and their friends concerned that the gravy train might come to an end should a few more fiscal conservatives win in 2024. In fact, HB24 failed to win a majority of the Republican caucus in either chamber, and SB1211 only passed the senate with Democratic support, which might explain why IACI has begun endorsing Democrats for the legislature.

I do not know if this is something IACI has done in the past, but it is very revealing about the true nature of Idaho politics. Casual observers assume that we are a solid red state, since the legislature has four Republicans for every Democrat, but if you look closer you will see that Idaho is fairly evenly split with regards to ideology. IACI’s endorsements bring that split into plain view.

When you look at party labels, the split in Idaho’s legislature is 87-18 in favor of the Republican party. However, if you consider the candidates who have thus far been endorsed by IACI as the establishment party, then it looks very different:

Left pie chart: shows the make-up of the Idaho legislature with 18 Democrats and 87 Republicans. Right pie chart: shows the make-up of the Idaho legislature with IACI endorsed candidates for the upcoming May 2024 primary races.

This is the essence of the so-called uniparty, the bipartisan alliance of establishment versus the people. Many, though not all, IACI endorsed Republicans are content to let the left call the shots on social issues, so long as they can work together to grow government. The most important thing for the IACI party is to keep money flowing from taxpayers to their own coffers.

IACI endorsed candidates run the gamut from far left Democratic representatives, such as Sonia Galaviz and Chris Mathias, to moderate Republican senators like Geoff Schroeder and Abby Lee. That means that IACI has implicitly endorsed abortion, transgender surgeries for minors, and everything else on the Democratic platform, in addition to the subsidies and endless growth of government that they truly desire.

To put it another way, IACI would rather have a Democrat who supports abortion until birth, radical racial and gender curricula in schools, and irreversible drugs and surgeries for children than a Republican who votes against more tax breaks and subsidies for its member businesses. So long as the money keeps flowing, IACI is happy.

Many organizations score lawmakers based on how they vote. Establishment figures regularly complain about the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s (IFF) Freedom Index and the American Conservative Union’s (ACU) CPAC ratings, but lobby groups like IACI do the same thing. In fact, IFF President Ron Nate made a compelling argument earlier this year that IACI’s rating system was garbage compared to the twelve-point rubric IFF utilizes. In the 2023 legislative session, IACI used lawmakers’ votes on a mere nine bills to generate their scores, whereas IFF scored legislators based on their votes on nearly 400 bills.

IACI has thus far endorsed 65 lawmakers and candidates through their Idaho Prosperity Fund PAC. Here is a quick and dirty list, with incumbents highlighted in grey:

List of 65 lawmakers and candidates endorsed by IACI as of December 31, 2023.

Remember these names, because this is Idaho’s establishment party. Not everyone on this list is necessarily a bad person, or even a bad legislator, but these are the people IACI believes will support their agenda.

Whether he meant it that way or not, Trent Clark was absolutely right to say that our current government is beholden to the businesses that have flourished under its umbrella. The question is, what are we the people going to do about it? Should we simply accept that what is good for Micron is good for Idaho, and vice versa? Or should we stand up and say that big businesses, while they have roles to play in our society, should not control our government?

This viewpoint article was originally published as “The IACI Uniparty” by Brian Almon on Gem State Substack.