Idaho Freedom Foundation
The Idaho Freedom Foundation is a state-based organization on an important mission: educate legislators on the potential impact of the bills that have been introduced and hold them accountable to vote for policy outcomes which are good for all Idahoans.
The vast amount of bills to review and votes to track made it necessary to look for a quick, simple way of keeping up with legislative activity, which is especially essential within a small organization. In 2019 alone, the state of Idaho had 41,489 votes, 778 motions, and 589 bills.
Additionally, bills can be complex and legislators are subject to many disparate, and often conflicting, influences. How could they hope to keep track of over 40,000 votes per year while also gaining the attention – and the trust – of legislators, year after year?
According to Dustin Hurst, Communications Director for the Foundation, “We needed a solution that was automated, easy-to-use, and functional, with the capacity to present legislative updates in a user-friendly way.”
That solution was a BillTrack50 Scorecard which we sync to their website in a visually appealing, easy-to-understand layout.
Hurst knew he could tell a clear story and also build credibility as a reliable source of analysis by keeping a laser focus on the policy behind each bill. IFF advocates “free market solutions, private property rights, individual responsibility and transparent, limited government,” so they developed a rubric based on those principals that they could follow to consistently rate bills on the same points year after year. Then they used those ratings in a scorecard to understand and display the cumulative impact of legislator’s votes over the course of the session.
“In 2012 we came to the realization that there was no good way to reliably understand the impact each legislator had on good government practices,” explains Hurst. “We needed an easy-to-understand guide to legislators’ votes, so we sought to build a scorecard that would tell the story of what actually happens in the Idaho Statehouse.”
A legislative scorecard rates legislators based on various criteria, traditionally with a letter grade or percentage score. The BillTrack50 scorecard calculates a score for each legislator based purely on votes and bill sponsorship. The score is the sum of all of the votes a legislator makes on key bills, weighted by the importance of the bill. Voting the right way adds the legislator’s score, voting the wrong way subtracts from the legislator’s score. Extra points can be awarded or subtracted based on bill sponsorship. In this way the BillTrack50 scorecard is just the facts, a reflection of a legislator’s actual votes. Each score can be clicked on to see all of the votes that contributed to the final number.
“We found BillTrack50 to host our scorecard with information we thought was essential to government officials and citizens alike here in Idaho,” says Hurst. “As a small staff, we don’t have a lot of time to hunt down bills, hunt down links, keep up with votes, and so on. All that information is easily available in the BillTrack50 system. The interface is so incredibly user-friendly, it means the world to a small organization like ours.”
The Scorecard Process
- BillTrack50 provides Idaho Freedom Foundation with daily information about new legislation.
- Idaho Freedom Foundation identifies bills that fall into their area of interest and sets rating for each bill, which they enter into the BillTrack50 scorecard using a simple web interface.
- BillTrack50 compiles all the votes for the bills that have been rated and calculates a total score for each legislator.
- BillTrack50 automatically incorporates new votes into the legislator scores.
- Our scorecard software automatically syncs with Idaho Freedom’s BillTrack50 scorecard and pulls in any new votes, as the votes come in.
“BillTrack50 is incredibly simple to use, in just five minutes our information goes live… and for a small staff that really matters a lot. It’s a really slick system and it’s only gotten better over the past couple of years. BillTrack50 has taken our scorecard to another level. People pay attention to us in part because we have a reliable system.”
“IFF had a vision we couldn’t resist,” admits Karen Suhaka, founder and president of LegiNation, Inc. “I was immediately excited by the power of their rubric based scoring approach and ideas for displaying the results in friendly interactive charts, tables, and maps. I was thrilled to work with them to develop our BillTrack50 Scorecard product and could not be prouder of how well received it has been by organizations big and small. It’s amazing how you can take tens of thousands of data points and make them genuinely meaningful to an interested citizen.”
Since 2012, IFF analysts have reviewed and scored hundreds of bills based on 12 consistent metrics. Those analyses offer a different point of view than what lawmakers hear from lobbyists and special interests in the Capitol. The scores and analyses are made available to legislators and the public alike on the Idaho Freedom Index scorecard.
“The scores matter a lot, but it’s more than that. It’s been an interesting evolution over the past few years, making the scorecard not only credible, but actionable. Days before a bill is voted on, lawmakers, lobbyists and stakeholders will access the scorecard to see our bill rating, and the scorecard has an impact on all of them.
As far as web stats go, the scorecard gives our organization a significant uptick in traffic. And, just as important, when people come to our scorecard, they stay on our site for lengthy periods. That’s big, as we want to ensure we expose followers and viewers to as much of our content as possible.“
Dustin Hurst, Communications Director
Impact On Lawmakers and Stakeholders
Idaho Freedom has gained an impressive amount of visibility in the state legislature.
Negative ratings have prompted stakeholders
to reach out and ask: how can we work together to make the best bill possible?
Representatives value their ranking
and strive to keep a high percentage score. “People are concerned about their scores because we do a very good job of publicizing it to the voters and they care a lot. We don’t just change scores when they call; we encourage legislators to improve their score by voting better” explains Hurst. One lawmaker did just that. After hearing from his constituents, he turned his low score in one session to a high score the next session, and kept it there.
Lawmakers that have a small staff
look at the ratings too. They don’t always have staff members to help them review the bills and really understand the policy ramifications so the IFF scorecard is a valuable resource for them. Even if they don’t agree with IFF’s point of view completely, they still consider it to be an important data point. The analyses and scores become part of the educational process, which IFF considers a success.
“BillTrack50 gives us the tools we need to be a powerhouse in Idaho’s political arena. It makes us more effective in communicating the ideas of freedom to people who need and want to hear them,” continues Hurst. “It gives us the technological edge that we need to better inform constituents and lawmakers alike.”
“We couldn’t be any more pleased,” concludes Hurst. “The scorecard has a better impact than we could’ve ever dreamed when we first started doing it by hand 12 years ago.”