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Giddings doubles down, tries campaign fundraising on ethics case

Aug. 6, 2021 Updated Fri., Aug. 6, 2021 at 5:21 p.m.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings smiles as she steps away after reading a statement before the House Ethics Committee in a hearing room at the Idaho State Capitol. Giddings is sponsoring a bill, which she said is designed to protect election integrity, that would ban the use of absentee ballot drop boxes.  (Brian Myrick/Idaho Press)
Rep. Priscilla Giddings smiles as she steps away after reading a statement before the House Ethics Committee in a hearing room at the Idaho State Capitol. Giddings is sponsoring a bill, which she said is designed to protect election integrity, that would ban the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. (Brian Myrick/Idaho Press)
By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Free Press

BOISE – After the Idaho House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to censure her and strip her of one of her committee assignments, Rep. Priscilla Giddings has doubled down on her contention that she’s done nothing wrong and is using her ethics case as campaign fundraising fodder in her run for Idaho lieutenant governor.

In two widely disseminated fundraising emails this week plus additional appeals on Facebook, Giddings, R-White Bird, blames House Speaker Scott Bedke, who also is running for lieutenant governor next year, for her ethics charges; refers to the hearing as a “mock ethics hearing Bedke has trumped up;” and claims, “Based on the slimmest evidence, Speaker Bedke is lodging vague ‘behavior unbecoming of a state legislator’ charges in an attempt to knock me out of the race against him.”

That’s not how the bipartisan House Ethics Committee saw it, not only upholding an ethics complaint filed against Giddings by two dozen House members from both parties, but in comments from every member of the panel, strongly and specifically condemning Giddings’ actions in publicizing the name, photo and personal information of a young House intern who accused a lawmaker of rape, and then misleading the Ethics Committee about her actions.

During the hearing’s final day on Tuesday, panel member Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who like Giddings is a Republican, called Giddings’ contention that the House speaker somehow controls which ethics complaints are considered “patently false” and “an outright lie.”

“I need your help,” Giddings wrote in her fundraising letter. “Will you join the fight by contributing $50 or $100 today?”

Later in the same letter, Giddings wrote, “Are you able to give $250 today to defend Idaho? Maybe $100 or $75 is more achievable? Even $50 or $25 will go a long way!”

Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler said the tactic follows the lead of former President Donald Trump. Research used to show that political scandals “could really harm your fundraising,” Kettler said, “but the last few years it seems like some candidates manage to gain momentum or attention off of some of these events.”

“It may help kind of drum up support among those who are already hard-core supporters for Giddings,” Kettler said. “Whether or not this is going to broaden her base, well, we might have some questions about that.”

Professor Rita Kirk, director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at Southern Methodist University in Texas, said while such a tactic might lead to some successful fundraising, it raises larger questions. “Kudos to the Legislature for bipartisan efforts to come to an agreement about the values that matter,” she said. “I think that says a lot. The fact that it was bipartisan, the way that it looks like it was conducted … it looks like a fitting, reasonable punishment. I think what’s really important … is to look at how citizens are trying to reclaim morality in our country, and that’s such an important lesson.”

“Now the Legislature has demonstrated leadership, saying, ‘This is what we think, we’ve done it in a bipartisan way, we’ve gone through due process, this is where we are,’ now it’s up to the voters,” Kirk said. “So in many ways, this is a referendum on the people of your state to say: ‘Are you tired of the backbiting, the distortions of truth? Here are the facts.’ And I think that’s a really important referendum. It’s certainly an election I will now be watching.”

She added, “In many ways, I think your state is giving the rest of us hope.”

Regular campaign finance reports aren’t due in the 2022 primary race until Jan. 1, but candidates currently are required to file notices within 48 hours when they receive contributions of $1,000 or more. Thus far, Giddings has reported one of those since Aug. 1, a $1,000 contribution from Colorado resident Wes Hoyt. Bedke has reported $12,000 of those since Aug. 1, all from within Idaho.

The third announced candidate in the GOP race, former state Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, has voluntarily been filing full monthly campaign finance reports, though they’re not yet required; as of his last report on July 31, he reported raising $110,405 in campaign funds to date, including $30,000 in loans of his own funds; and spending $40,189, for a balance of $70,216.

In addition to facing House ethics charges over her actions regarding the 19-year-old intern, the Idaho Press’ news partner, KTVB-TV, reported this week that Giddings faced an assessment from the U.S. Air Force, in which she’s an officer in the reserves; and that the Air Force recently completed that assessment and said it took “appropriate action,” but would not disclose what that action was due to privacy laws.

KTVB also reported this week that Bedke told the station the House will reconvene before the end of 2021, and will vote on the Ethics Committee’s recommendation on Giddings as well as formally adjourn for the year; he said he hasn’t yet heard sufficient support from House members for taking up other matters.

“People want to get finished with their vacations here in August and then you have the Thanksgiving and Christmas time after that,” he said. “We will find a time in there where we can come in, as the original plan that we set back in May, and close up the books.”

As for Giddings’ charges that Bedke somehow orchestrated her ethics case, Bedke told KTVB, “That is a narrative that is not consistent with the facts and I believe everyone knows that, but it makes great political theater. That’s what you are seeing being played out.”

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