Non-Disclosure of Campaign Donation Taints House Ethics Committee Proceedings

Idaho’s House Ethics Committee is ascribing motives to a member of Idaho’s House of Representatives that do not and did not exist. They are assigning meanings to words that run counter to their common parlance. They concocted special whistleblower status for a woman who does not qualify as a whistleblower and who may have filed a false police report. They allowed people who filed a complaint against a fellow House member to refer to an alleged victim as a “victim” and a “rape victim.” This despite no charges ever having been filed against then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, plus no due process and no conviction. By definition, victim status cannot be assigned if no crime has been established, and von Ehlinger was never charged, prosecuted, or convicted of a crime.

Words matter. Unfortunately, the members of Idaho’s House Ethics Committee appear to be playing fast and loose with their meanings in their investigation of ethics charges against Rep. Priscilla Giddings (R-Dist. 7). As one person attending the hearing commented, “I’m only 27 years old, and I recognize what’s going on.” The person, who did not want to be named for this article, was appalled that the committee members were “willfully blind” to the truth.

But it gets even worse. At the conclusion of the Committee’s hearing on Monday, it was revealed by Idaho Dispatch that Holland and Hart, LLP, the law firm employing Christopher McCurdy, who conducted the bulk of the Committee’s questioning, donated money to House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Dist. 27).

Donations to House Speaker Scott Bedke – Image courtesy of Idaho Dispatch

It should be noted that Bill Myers, the legal counsel for the Committee, is a full partner with Holland & Hart. Myers was sitting next to Committee Chair Sage Dixon (R-Dist. 1) and whispering into his ear throughout the day.

For clarity on what this means, let’s examine some facts.

  • Holland & Hart donated to Scott Bedke’s re-election campaign.
  • As House Speaker, Scott Bedke has full control of the House legal fund. Only he can authorize the use of that fund.
  • Scott Bedke uses Holland & Hart almost exclusively when seeking legal counsel for the House.
  • Holland & Hart attorneys charge upwards of $400 per hour for their services.
  • The House legal fund was “replenished” this last legislative session with approximately $4 million taxpayer dollars.
  • Reps. von Ehlinger and Giddings both voted against key legislation desired by Speaker Bedke.
  • Two Holland & Hart attorneys were used by the House Ethics Committee to investigate and “prosecute” Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger.
  • Two Holland & Hart attorneys were used by the House Ethics Committee to investigate and “prosecute” Rep. Priscilla Giddings.
  • Bedke is Giddings’ political opponent in the race for Lt. Governor and the primary signer of one of the complaints lodged against her.

This is a clear example of conflict of interest. That neither attorney from Holland & Hart nor Speaker Bedke nor anyone on the Ethics Committee disclosed the donation warrants an ethics investigation of its own.

Senator Christy Zito (R-Dist.23), who was present at the hearing, was incredulous when she heard that Holland & Hart had donated to Bedke. Speaking to True Idaho News, Zito said, “Isn’t this a conflict of interest? We need to learn if this law firm made donations to anyone else who signed the complaint.”

True Idaho News is following up on this recommendation by Senator Zito.

Also consider the following:

  • Sage Dixon (R-Dist. 1) and Brent Crane (R-Dist. 11) both serve on the Ethics Committee, yet both also serve as chairs of other committees. They are placed in those position by and are serving at the pleasure of House Speaker Bedke.
  • It is well-known on among House members that Sage Dixon seeks to become part of House Majority Leadership. It’s also known that Rep. Crane is particularly fond of having power. In fact, in a meeting at the Attorney General’s office when Dixon and Crane were trying to convince von Ehlinger’s attorney that von Ehlinger should resign, witnesses state that Crane announced, “I’m the third most power person in this House, and I will see he [von Ehlinger] is expelled. He doesn’t have a chance.”
  • Both men want to keep their chairmanships.
  • Both know they need to appease Scott Bedke to do so, because Speaker Bedke has a reputation for retaliation against Representatives who don’t do his bidding.
  • Additionally, Sage Dixon is appointed by Bedke to Chair the Ethics Committee.

When it comes to conflict of interest, it’s like what that 27-year-old said. This is not hard to see.

It used to be that nobody on the Ethics Committee could be also serving in a leadership capacity in any way and that that the House Speaker did not appoint the Chair of the Ethics Committee. A legislator told True Idaho News that those policies changed after Bedke became Speaker.

One must also remember that Giddings announced her intention to run for Lt. Governor on May 21, and Bedke announced his run for that same office six days later, on May 27.  A state legislator who wished not to be identified for this article out of fear of retaliation said “Scott Bedke will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Priscilla needs to watch her back, and there needs to be an investigation into all this.”

The Ethics Committee is comprised of Sage Dixon (Chair), Brent Crane, Wendy Horman (R-Dist. 30), John Gannon (D-Dist. 17), and John McCrostie (D-Dist. 16). They will make their recommendation on Tuesday morning for what should happen to Rep. Giddings.


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