Ryan Davidson, chairman of the Ada County Republican Central Committee, used his own party’s money to pay for advice related to his private lobbying business in 2018.
Recently under his watch, a review of the organization’s finances has also been conducted by an insider who pleaded guilty to misusing public money in the past.
Facebook messages obtained by Boise State Public Radio show Davidson admitting he “inadvertently” paid $100 from county Republican funds to Holly Cook, a public relations professional and political consultant.
Cook most recently worked as Paulette Jordan’s interim campaign manager during her bid for the Democratic nomination to unseat Sen. Jim Risch (R). Cook quit earlier this month because Jordan fell behind on payroll, among other reasons, she said.
In the messages between Cook and Davidson, who is also running for a seat on the Ada County Board of Commissioners, he said the payment from Dec. 3, 2018 was found during an internal audit, “But I’ve reimbursed the party for it, so its [sic] all good.”
Davidson didn’t immediately respond to questions from Boise State Public Radio.
When Cook learned of the payment, which she said she never invoiced for, was made using county party funds, she attempted to return the money by contacting the party’s treasurer, Justin Collins on May 18. She said he never responded.
An audit of the party’s finances was called for in February by Ed Humphreys, a fellow member of the county GOP and an outspoken critic of Davidson. Humphreys said such a review was past due.
“A regular audit is required per our Central Committee’s by-laws. It has surprised me how much flak I’ve gotten for asking the Ada County GOP leadership to conduct something that should be part of our normal routine,” Humphreys said in a statement.
“It’s a big election year and we should be open and transparent so people will donate to and support the Ada County GOP.”
Even when an audit was approved, it was led by Vicky McIntyre, the disgraced former Ada County Treasurer who was charged in 2018 with six felonies related to using taxpayer money to buy tickets to an NHL game while attending a conference in Las Vegas, among other expenses.
In court documents, McIntyre maintained that she was never trained on the difference between a personal or business expense and that she thought these charges were either directly associated with the conference or part of a “bonding and team-building exercise” she arranged.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Ada County Magistrate Judge Daniel Steckel called these events “purely entertainment” and “clearly not work-related” during a preliminary hearing in October 2018.
McIntyre later reimbursed the county for those expenses.
Some of the felony charges were later dismissed, but she pled guilty in 2019 to a single misdemeanor in a deal with prosecutors that netted her six months of probation and a $500 fine. Despite pleading guilty, all charges were dismissed this past January after she successfully completed her probation.
McIntyre has been involved with the Ada County Republican Central Committee for years. She’s currently running in a contested primary for a seat as a precinct committee member. She’s also publicly defended Davidson’s tenure as chairman of the county party’s governing board and served as the committee’s treasurer as recently as 2017.
Such close ties to both an organization and its top executive officer breaks the norms of basic auditing principles, according to Bob Picard, a professor of accounting at Idaho State University.
“The minute the organization starts calling it an audit, that presumes independence,” Picard said.
The Ada County Republican Central Committee bylaws require at least one annual audit, or one may be triggered under other circumstances.
An organization would typically solicit bids from independent, outside accounting firms to perform the audit, Picard said. They’re also traditionally conducted by certified public accountants. That certification requires a state-issued license that’s renewed annually.
“I don't know of an instance where an audit that is being done for third party consumption isn't done by a CPA,” Picard said.
McIntyre does not hold a CPA license, but she has a masters in business administration.
Her background wouldn’t preclude her from conducting an internal financial review, which does not have to meet the same high standards of an audit, he said. But her level of involvement in party affairs, among other reasons, “stick out like a sore thumb.”
“The only real way to mitigate those is to remove the auditor from the audit,” Picard said.
In a Facebook post, McIntyre said the audit has been completed and will eventually be made public. As of press time, the results have not been released.
She also pushed back against Humphreys questioning her ability to remain impartial.
“Like jurors, people can provide independent opinions,” she wrote.
Humphreys also filed a separate complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State last month, claiming Davidson never reported his lobbying activities for Happy Hippo LLC. The company sells a controversial herbal supplement called kratom, which was once thought to be a potential opioid replacement.
But researchers have since called kratom “unsafe and ineffective” with side effects similar to opioid withdrawal after patients reported using the product for at least six months.
The complaint alleges Davidson spent $11,532 on an event at Boise’s Egyptian Theatre in March 2019, screening a documentary on kratom called “Leaf of Faith” for legislators.
None of those expenses paid for by his business, Liberty Lobby of Idaho, were reported to the state.
“...the Liberty Lobby of Idaho has continued its disregard for campaign finance laws and has falsified filings with the Secretary of State,” Humphreys wrote in his complaint.
In a statement to the Idaho Press, which first reported on the complaint earlier this month, Davidson said he didn’t report the expenses because it was an “open, public event.”
“We had no idea how many — if any — legislators would show up. In my mind, this was not the direct lobbying type of event I was familiar with that fell into the reportable categories enumerated on the disclosure form,” he wrote.
That complaint was referred to the Idaho Attorney General’s office.
Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.
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