Maxwell: We're In the Money 

For most of his career as an anti-tax activist, Laird Maxwell has made do with a variety of donations, some big, some small. But when he dipped a toe into the larger national push against property tax regulations, he fell into the money pool.

Maxwell said his pitch to wealthy Libertarian activist Howard Rich and other well-off conservative activists was simple: "You got the money, I got the time. We'll make this happen."

And so they have. Now Maxwell is a conduit for hundreds of thousands of dollars, some he keeps to help fund ballot initiatives like Idaho's Proposition 2, others he sends out of state. Under the auspices of "America At Its Best," Maxwell recently sent $450,000 to a group, "Missourians in Charge," which is pushing a similar property-rights initiative.

To get Proposition 2 ready for the ballot, he took in more cash. Except for $50 donated by Maxwell, the entire budget for his group, "This House is My Home," came from out of state, according to reports from the Idaho Secretary of State. Fully $100,000 came from Montana-based America At Its Best, a group that lists Maxwell as its treasurer. But $237,000 came from the New York-based Fund for Democracy, which is headed by Rich, a libertarian activist. In fact, Maxwell readily admits he got his money from out of state. He said he started America At Its Best to help draw money from out-of-state donors.

"It just makes sense to start a new group," he said. Maxwell has never met Rich--he calls him "Howie"--but they have spoken on the phone.

"Howie's a big contributor to a lot of causes," he said. At various national conferences that draw like-minded people such as Maxwell and Rich, there is an opportunity, Maxwell said, to compare notes and exchange addresses, and sometimes checks. Maxwell said when he gets a donor eager to help him push an Idaho initiative or an Arizona measure, which he is also helping with, he just sends them to America At Its Best.

"I said, 'Look, these guys are working on a nationwide basis," Maxwell said. "We're kicking butt in a bunch of different states. Our effort is limiting government. That's what we're trying to do."

The time is ripe now, he said. When the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of a measure there that forces the state to compensate property owners or change laws, Maxwell was ready. He had corralled his donors. He had all but hired a Colorado firm to gather signatures (he ended up paying $322,834 to Kennedy Enterprises to run the Idaho signup effort.

"We were prepared," Maxwell said. "All of a sudden it's go, boom, and we were off to the races."

When he hears that planners are alarmed by his measure, he does not shed a tear.

"These planners and all that, they just get in the way. Most of that planning is futile anyway," Maxwell said. "It's really kind of arrogant. Who do they think they are?"

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