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Secret recording shows how right-wing Idaho lobbyist Maria Nate tried to keep Rep. Heather Scott in lockstep

Maria Nate, who leads the Idaho chapter of the State Freedom Caucus Network, was unhappy when one of Idaho’s most prominent conservative lawmakers, Heather Scott, began supporting a moderate House leader, according to a secret recording of the two having a heated discussion in the Idaho Capitol. Nate is shown here at a meeting in Rexburg in December 2023. | Mary Boyle, EastIdahoNews.com file photo
Editor’s note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some readers.
(InvestigateWest) — It was the middle of March in the Idaho Legislature, and Maria Nate, one of the most powerful lobbyists in right-wing Idaho politics, sounded like she’d been stabbed in the back.
She’d just learned that Rep. Heather Scott — her friend, ally, and one of the most conservative legislators in the Idaho House of Representatives — had been considering doing the unthinkable: teaming up with a supposedly “moderate” Republican.
“I’m asking you to not repeat that outside of this room,” Scott, R-Blanchard, told Nate.
But while the door was closed, the walls were thin, and their voices were loud.
Two weeks later, everything they said — every insult, sob, unflattering impression or bark of derisive laughter between two of the most prominent figures in Idaho politics — was already being passed around by political insiders.
Nate declared that Scott was “undermining” her. She warned Scott that “trust lost is very hard to regain” and told her that cutting Nate out of the “inner circle” was a “big f***ing deal.”

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, has been one of the most popular and controversial far-right lawmakers in the Idaho Legislature since her election in 2014. A secret recording of Scott and lobbyist Maria Nate shows some of the divisions emerging among conservatives in Idaho’s lawmaking body. | Kathy Plonka, Spokesman-Review
It was all on tape. A nearly two-hour secret recording reveals Nate was incensed that Scott and her allies were “hatching a plan” to send out a letter praising House Speaker Mike Moyle, a Republican frequently attacked by the far right as insufficiently conservative.
Last month, that recording was leaked to InvestigateWest by a third-party source not involved in taping it. When asked for comment, Scott and Nate refused to talk, and the Idaho State Police reached out to InvestigateWest to let us know the recording was part of a criminal investigation and to warn of potential criminal liability if we disclosed the recording’s content.
The recording, which we are not posting at the request of our source, is an unfiltered look into a fracture among key far-right figures in Idaho politics, in a state where many races turn on contests of conservative purity.
It’s a portrait of the tangled relationship between a power broker and a politician. It includes Nate insulting other legislators and accusing Scott of joining the establishment. It shows Scott questioning both whether God wants women in leadership and whether she wants to remain in Idaho at all.
In total, it’s evidence that the attempt to run the bare-knuckled right-wing playbook of Congress’s House Freedom Caucus has backfired in the solidly red Idaho Legislature.
Instead of simply forcing legislative leaders to reckon with their influence, Nate and Scott’s coalition of conservative legislators have turned on each other.
“There’s not unity,” Nate said. “I’m really trying to pray to get unity. I would die for this.”
‘Just remember who the enemy is’
Heather Scott and Maria Nate have each established their own perch in Idaho politics.
Scott, from her district near the top of the Idaho Panhandle, has made plenty of headlines. During her first week in office, lawmakers accused her of cutting down a piece of the fire suppression system because she believed it was a “listening device” — a claim she denies.
She’d explained that the Confederate flag she’d been photographed waving was merely signifying her support for “free speech.” She’d been removed from a committee after she was overheard saying that female House members “spread their legs” to get leadership positions — the same month that Moyle married a fellow legislator.
But despite all that — or, perhaps, because of all that — she’s cultivated an army of die-hard supporters from the North Idaho grassroots. Even her weekly constituent newsletters developed a fan base.
“That’s why you were the perfect choice to be the leader,” Nate told Scott in the recording. “You have all the people.”
Nate, meanwhile, has a powerful conservative coalition under her own roof. Her husband, former Republican legislator Ron Nate, was recently appointed head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation — the heavyweight think tank that grades the Legislature on its “Freedom Index,” scorecards that purport to separate true conservatives from phonies.
And Nate herself is the Idaho director of the State Freedom Caucus Network, a national nonprofit that aims to equip the farthest-right members of state legislators for their battles with the Republican establishment. It was inspired by the House Freedom Caucus in Congress, an alliance of the most right-wing legislators who frequently are at war with Republican congressional leaders.
Scott is the legislative co-chair picked to lead the state representatives who’ve adopted the Freedom Caucus brand.
When the State Freedom Caucus Network launched its Idaho affiliate in January 2023, it looked like a conservative dream team: Scott and Nate, bomb thrower and power broker, with a legion of newly elected conservative legislators marching beside them.
In the Idaho Senate last November, Freedom Caucus members were removed from committees for having “aggressively attacked, disparaged and degraded fellow members.” In February, in the House, Republicans agreed to boot out comparatively moderate House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma.
But Maria Nate was far from happy. On social media, she and her husband, Ron, declared that Idaho wasn’t truly conservative, accusing Republicans of teaming up with Democrats “to pass bad bills and kill good bills.” A school choice bill failed. A bill expanding contraception access passed.
The Freedom Caucus had split on issues like immigration. A divided caucus was a weaker caucus, Nate emphasized on the recording.
“You watch the Democrats: They operate like a single unit, and they’re freaking powerful because of that. They’re a formidable unit that must be dealt with,” Nate told Scott. “You guys are not.”

“That’s fine because we all see ourselves as individuals,” Scott said.
To Scott, that individualism was an asset. To Nate, it created a problem, calling it a “nut” that needed to be “cracked” to have true success.
“The Freedom Caucus is supposed to be the tip of the spear, the straight arrow,” Nate said. “But if you’re discontented about things, and you talk about it in the caucus … then I can see how things can go sideways. And then before you know it, you’re just barely one degree off of Moyle. So just remember who the enemy is.”
‘Do you think I’m stupid?’
Moyle, Idaho’s speaker of the House, doesn’t exactly see Maria Nate as an ally, either.
“Maria Nate just wants total chaos, because she thinks somehow it’s going to generate more money for her cause,” he told InvestigateWest.
He had nothing but praise for Heather Scott.
“Sometimes I think others have tried to muzzle her or hold her down,” Moyle said. “I just let her do her thing.”
Moyle is the kind of politician who rattles off the reasons why he’s “very conservative” with speed, at length, and in the third person.
“If they think Maria Nate’s gonna tell Mike Moyle how he’s gonna vote, they’ve got the wrong guy,” Moyle says. “I do what’s best for Idaho.”
But lately, he’d become a target for the Young Americans for Liberty, the libertarian-leaning group that’s spent more on lobbying in the last three years than any other group in Idaho.
“Make Liberty Win,” a PAC funded by Young Americans for Liberty, had been flooding Moyle’s district with mailers declaring that “Swamp King” Moyle had been “cheating conservatives” by putting in “just enough Democrats and (Republicans-in-name-only) to kill conservative policies.”
“Their flyers they’re sending out on me, total lies, misrepresentation of the truth — it’s just garbage,” Moyle said.
Despite the criticism, Scott and several members of the Freedom Caucus were ready to come to his defense this spring. They were preparing to send a letter to the Young Americans for Liberty, declaring their support for Moyle and objecting to YAL’s attempts to defeat him. They credited Moyle with the “largest income tax relief in 10 years” and with “pushing back on the woke agendas creeping into Idaho.”
But others on the right viewed such a letter as a betrayal that undermined their efforts to oust Moyle. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which has long been considered the most influential right-wing think tank in the state, had given Moyle an F for his “freedom score” and an F — a 22 out of a possible 100 — in the “spending” category.
Yet at least half of the Freedom Foundation’s top-six-scoring legislators had endorsed him, suggesting that the foundation’s power may have waned.
“Even their own guys have said ‘IFF has gone crazy,’” Moyle told InvestigateWest. “Their own guys are saying they’re nuts.”
Nate warned Scott repeatedly that there could be consequences to sending the letter supporting Moyle.
“If you do this thing with Moyle … the ramifications you could have outside of this building, to your allied partners could be very, very devastating,” Nate warned on the recording.
“Do you think I’m stupid and don’t know that?” Scott said. “Don’t you think I would take that into consideration?”
Nate said that Young Americans for Liberty was planning to spend $1.1 million worth of campaign assistance for its preferred candidates, but warned Scott that if YAL “can’t make gains in the Legislature, they’re gonna pull out of Idaho, which means no more funding.”
Scott wasn’t particularly desperate for that support, accusing YAL of inflating the numbers of voters they’d actually called.
“They dropped the ball last time,” Scott said.
In the recording, Scott defended Moyle as someone who had already put conservative legislators on several key committees, booted the moderate House majority leader and passed long-desired budget reforms.
“Mike is pushing up against the executive branch,” Scott said. “I don’t see anyone else in this building doing that. They all bow down to (the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry) and the governor.”
Supporting Moyle wasn’t compromise, she argued. It was part of a long-term strategy to increase conservative influence in the Legislature.

“That is what politics is all about: building relationships and still getting the best you can get,” Scott said.
Moyle was a “game player,” Nate argued, and Scott was getting played.
For years, Scott had decried the Boise establishment as a “swamp” brimming with “evil people,” bullies, and “gravy train” crony capitalists.
“I see you playing in the system more than you have before,” Nate told Scott.
“You’re worried that we might try something new,” Scott said. “I’ve watched for 10 years, and nothing has happened in this place. Nothing.”
‘Out of your lane’
Scott assured Nate that she would have the stamp of “final approval” over anything the group sent out supporting Moyle.
That itself was remarkable: a lobbyist gaining veto power over communications from legislators. Lines between lobbyists, political action committees and politicians can always be blurry, but the line between the Idaho Freedom Caucus — the group of elected legislators — and Nate’s State Freedom Caucus Network was an ever-shifting scribble.
At times even Freedom Caucus members grew uncomfortable with how entangled Nate was with the group.
“You are awesome. Everybody loves you. You understand the system,” Scott said. “The only thing is you’re out of your lane a bit.”
Nate objected.
“Now I’m stepping out of my lane?” Nate said. “I don’t even know what my lane is anymore.”
At some points, Nate accused Scott of treating her “like staff,” making her do all the social media posts, newsletters, messaging cards and managing a campaign.
But in others, Nate talked like she was the boss, in need of new legislators to act as employees for the caucus.
“Where’s my comms manager on the House side?” Nate would ask. “Where’s my whip on the House side?”
She managed a spreadsheet with recommendations for how legislators should vote, but maybe, she said, she should stop doing voting recommendations entirely.
“If you guys can’t figure out how to vote, that’s on you,” Nate said.
Nate accused Scott of listening too much to Rep. Josh Tanner, whom she identified as a “silent member” of the Freedom Caucus not listed on the website, and claimed he’s “loyal to Moyle.”
She chided Scott and other Freedom Caucus members for pushing back at how the Idaho Freedom Foundation was planning on scoring certain budget bills, complaining that the process had gone “off the rails” because they weren’t trusting the experience of Freedom Foundation experts like her husband “Ron, an economist.”
She declared that the Freedom Caucus co-chair, Sen. Tammy Nichols, wasn’t going to be the leader next year, just a caucus member.
“I don’t talk to Tammy at all,” Nate said. “Nobody respects her as a leader.”
The work was taking its toll, she said. Nate had a “meltdown at morning prayer,” she said. She was up in bed every night at midnight and back at the Capitol every day at 6:45.
“Tell me what you want me to do,” Nate said.
“Sleep,” Scott said.
‘We want to get the hell out of Idaho’
“I don’t know that I buy into all of this,” Nate acknowledged about her Freedom Caucus Network role. “I buy into the message, but I don’t know how to do it when we don’t have wins.”
Nate also lamented that the old Heather Scott, the one who could rally grassroots support, who was known for constantly sending out newsletters to her constituents, seemed to have gone missing.
“You told me you weren’t going to run again, Heather,” Nate said at one point. “You were so disengaged last session.”
“If I seemed to disengage, it’s because (my husband) Andrew’s like ‘I’m sick of this, don’t do this anymore,’” Scott said. “We’ve been living on my salary for eight years on 20 grand. We don’t have debts. We’re fine. But there’s a lot of stresses. So we want to get the hell out of Idaho. We’ve applied. We’re looking.”
Nate wondered if Scott’s problem with her was sexism.
“Heather, do you just not trust me because I’m a woman?” Nate asked. “I do wonder, because you’d said to me a lot of times that women need to follow men.”
Scott insisted she trusted Nate but acknowledged that she does “think men are stronger leaders.”
“I just think that’s how God designed us,” Scott said. “Obviously, we’re in a time of attack and crisis. And I think that God has put a lot of women in leadership positions because we’re in judgment. That’s why we’re always — it’s not natural, I don’t think.”
It’s not clear if she meant God’s general judgment on humanity or a more targeted type of punishment.
Repeatedly, Nate suggested that her relationship with Scott had been irreparably broken, that Nate didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. Scott stood out as the one who believed their decade-long friendship could be saved.
As fellow Christians, Scott stressed to Nate, they’re sisters.
“I’m not trying to fight. I’m not trying to be argumentative. I love you,” Scott told Nate. “I think you’re doing a great job, and I’m not trying to undermine you.”
Scott made her choice. She and some of her conservative allies did send the letter praising Moyle to the Young Americans for Liberty, though they didn’t mention their Freedom Caucus affiliation. Moyle says a number of them have donated to his campaign as well.
On April 1, more than a week after the recording, Scott sent out a newsletter to her constituents. It praised Moyle’s leadership, declaring that “change doesn’t come fast in Idaho but I’m seeing great signs for the future.”
Just one paragraph below, she praised Maria Nate to her newsletter readers, for her “help with organization and vision” of the Freedom Caucus.
But by then the secret recording was already circulating, and a nasty anonymous social media account — an increasingly common feature of Idaho’s political landscape — had begun taunting both women: “Hey Maria, what is the Moyle letter and why didn’t @HeatherScottID want you to know about it?”
InvestigateWest is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. A Report for America corps member, Daniel Walters covers democracy and extremism across the region. He can be reached at daniel@invw.org.
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Idaho State Police warned InvestigateWest that publishing story about secret recording might violate Idaho law. We wrote about it anyway.
More than a week before InvestigateWest published a story about a secret recording of a conversation between Idaho Rep. Heather Scott and lobbyist Maria Nate, we reached out to both women to request interviews.
A copy of the recording had been provided to InvestigateWest by a third party who shared it on the condition that they not be identified. The nearly two-hour conversation begins with Nate berating Scott for her plans to support Idaho’s speaker of the House but moves on to discuss everything from the problems with Young Americans for Liberty to whether God prefers men to women in leadership.
Scott said she would “maybe” agree to be interviewed if we waited a few days, saying that the context she could provide was crucial.
Instead, InvestigateWest later got a call from Idaho State Police Detective Sean Walker, who said he believed the recording may have been made illegally. Then, he read an Idaho state law suggesting that if InvestigateWest wrote about the contents of a recording we knew had been illegally made, it could violate Idaho’s communications security laws, a crime punishable by up to five years in state prison.
“You got a nice little newspaper here. It’d be terrible if something were to happen to it,” joked Bob Corn-Revere, chief counsel at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, referencing the way a mafia thug might use veiled threats to shake down a business.
InvestigateWest is publishing the story anyway. Multiple experts told us that court precedent clearly shows we are protected by the First Amendment.
“When law enforcement officers threaten journalists with potential prosecution, that still has a chilling effect on journalists,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for journalists and whistle-blowers. “Law enforcement officers — before they speak about First Amendment law and before they allude to a prospect as serious as a journalist being held criminally liable — should do their research and make sure that what they’re implying … has not been expressly rejected by the United States Supreme Court.”
Don’t sue the messenger
Secret recordings happen all the time in Idaho: Unlike in neighboring Washington, most anyone in Idaho talking to somebody else can legally make an audio recording of their conversation.
But that still generally requires at least one person in that conversation to have made that recording. You can’t plant a bug in the governor’s offices or dangle a listening device from the ceiling of the Idaho Capitol.
None of the people involved in the conversation in the recording given to InvestigateWest, Walker said, had admitted to making the recording, making it potentially illegal. But even if it were, that doesn’t mean it’s illegal for InvestigateWest to write about it.
Idaho’s law, which is nearly identical to federal wiretapping laws, does appear to ban anyone from disclosing contents of an illegally obtained recording — though there is case law protecting journalists.
“The statute is not unconstitutional on its face,” Corn-Revere said. “The question is whether or not it would be unconstitutional as applied to this set of facts.”
A 2001 Supreme Court case, Bartnicki v. Vopper, provides the key test.
In that case, “Someone sent what everyone assumed was an illegal recording to a news organization and the news organizations published it,” Corn-Revere said. “But the fact that they were aware that probably wasn’t legal does not affect their First Amendment right to publish it. They weren’t the ones who solicited or did the recording.”
Even if a recording was made illegally, an uninvolved journalist sharing that information is almost always protected by the First Amendment.
There are caveats: It has to be a matter of public concern. A school board union dispute qualifies. A sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan doesn’t.
And at times, politicians have been held to a higher standard than journalists: Former U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., passed along an illegally intercepted recording of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to multiple media outlets. It was clearly a matter of public concern and he hadn’t made the recording. But the court found he didn’t have First Amendment protections.
“There was a specific duty for a member of Congress, who in receiving information that he knew was part of his congressional responsibilities, didn’t have the same ability to disclose it in the same way that a journalist would,” Corn-Revere said.
Even ironclad protections don’t make journalists immune to public officials who don’t know or don’t care about constitutional protections. Last year, police in Kansas raided the Marion County Record newsroom for accessing openly available DUI records on a public website.
“Something like that would have sounded absurd, probably 10 years ago,” Stern says. “Judges, and police officers and government officials seem to be less aware of or less concerned with press freedom rights than they previously have been.”
Reasonable expectations
At this point, InvestigateWest doesn’t know whether the recording was illegal or not.
The source who leaked the recording to InvestigateWest made it clear that they weren’t the ones who recorded it, but emphasized that multiple witnesses could clearly overhear the loud conversation coming from Scott’s office.
The details matter when it comes to someone’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
For example, in 1994, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a woman who stood in a hallway of a divided home and secretly taped the loud and abusive language from the neighbors next door didn’t violate their neighbors’ right to privacy.
Once the conversations were loud enough to be heard “through a dividing wall in their home,” the court concluded, those being taped “lost whatever expectation of privacy they had that their secret discussions and conversations would not be overheard.”
But it’s a gray area, one that can depend on the nature of exactly how thin the walls are and how quietly a reasonable person would believe they would have to whisper to avoid being overheard.
“In general, if you’re in a position to hear something in a public space, anyone who happens to be in that space can hear it, then you also have a right to record it,” Corn-Revere says. “If someone is in a public space and speaking, you can’t say that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Through a wall? That’s more complicated.”
Recording devices are everywhere in the state Capitol, including devices set to simply record everyone who enters an office. In 2018, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who owns a security company, put a hidden video camera in his office in response to the wave of lawmakers who had faced sexual assault and harassment accusations. It did not record audio.
Maria Nate, in particular, is well aware of the potential for being recorded in the Idaho Legislature. In 2016, media outlets reported that Maria’s husband, then-Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, had secretly recorded his conversation with then-Sen. Brent Hill. Legislative leaders condemned the behavior and suggested that, if it wasn’t grounds for an ethics investigation, it was certainly a violation of trust.
“Being a legislator is like being in a marriage,” Rep. Mike Moyle, now speaker of the House, told The Post Register newspaper at the time. “If you lose trust, it’s over.”
— Daniel Walters, InvestigateWest
The post Secret recording shows how right-wing Idaho lobbyist Maria Nate tried to keep Rep. Heather Scott in lockstep appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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