Boswell campaign questions Fallon's ethics (part 2)

This is part of a series I’m writing about efforts by Leonard Boswell’s campaign and its supporters to make the third district primary about Ed Fallon’s faults rather than the incumbent’s record of service.

Boswell’s staffers and supporters have criticized Fallon for the following four alleged ethical problems:

1. his work and fundraising for the Independence Movement for Iowa (I’M for Iowa)

2. the salary Fallon drew from unspent campaign funds following the 2006 gubernatorial primary

3. allegations that Fallon pondered running for governor as an independent after losing that primary

4. Fallon’s stand against taking contributions from PACs while allowing PACs to encourage their individual members to donate to his campaign.

For my take on the I’M for Iowa allegations, see this diary and this follow-up piece.

Today I will focus on the controversy surrounding the salary Fallon’s gubernatorial campaign paid him following his loss in the June 2006 primary.

Campaigns routinely pay staffers for weeks or months after the race is over. Just last week I spoke to someone who is still working at John Edwards’ headquarters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, more than two months after Edwards suspended his presidential campaign.

It is more unusual for the candidate to be paid for doing campaign work after the election. No one disputes that Fallon received $13,750 from his gubernatorial campaign between June and November of 2006. The payments are allowed under Iowa law “as long as the candidate is doing work related to the campaign.”

Before drawing any salary from unspent campaign funds, Fallon checked with Charlie Smithson, executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. According to Fallon, Smithson “assured me that I, along with other staff, could be paid to work on campaign related tasks.” What were those tasks?

Though the campaign was over, there was still plenty of work to do with data entry, file drawers, computer files, and office equipment.  I also wanted to make sure the key issues in my campaign continued to receive attention through the general election.  So, three staff and I stayed on part-time.

Now that this has become an issue in the Boswell-Fallon race, Iowa House representative Rick Olson is leading a charge to ban politicians from taking salaries from campaign funds:

Rep. Rick Olson, a Des Moines Democrat, criticized candidates taking salaries from campaign money. In remarks on the floor of the Iowa House today, he vowed to work with Democratic leaders to introduce legislation known as the “Ed Fallon loophole” to make the payments illegal.

“I find that unbelievable,” Olson said. “If that’s what the law is in the state, that we can pay ourselves salaries after we’ve been defeated. I think that’s a hoax and a sham.”

Smithson declined to comment on the specific situation when contacted by the Des Moines Register, but said that legislators should

take a broader look at the issue. Lawmakers should question if candidates – at any stage during or after their elections – should be able to pay themselves for running for public office, Smithson said.

The Iowa legislature has two “funnel” deadlines for bills, and both have passed this session. In theory, that means that new bills, which have not already been approved by at least one committee, may not be introduced until the 2009 legislative session.

However, the leadership in the Democratic-controlled Iowa House and Senate may try to get Olson’s proposal through this month:

Democratic leaders in the Iowa House and Senate agreed Tuesday to work on a proposal that would make it illegal for political candidates to pay themselves a salary out of campaign contributions.

Brian Meyer, an assistant for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said Tuesday that the Democratic leader, along with Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, have agreed to draft legislation to halt such payments. The proposal could be introduced as soon as Thursday, Meyer said.

A deadline has passed for most lawmakers to sponsor new legislation, but bills sponsored by legislative leaders can be introduced at any time and remain eligible for debate.

If legislators push this bill through, I will have written my last check to the House and Senate Democratic leadership funds. It is totally inappropriate to make the Iowa legislature an arm of Leonard Boswell’s re-election campaign.

It is also absurd to treat the so-called “Fallon loophole” as a five-alarm fire when Iowa has no limits on the size of contributions candidates for the legislature or statewide office may accept. That’s right, a wealthy person can write a check of any size to any state legislator’s campaign.

Also, legislative leaders refuse to allow the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections Act (which would create a voluntary public-financing system similar to those used in Maine and Arizona) to move forward.

Fallon responded to this legislative effort in his campaign website blog on April 2. Among other things, he claims lawmakers are getting back at him because his political advocacy organization, I’M for Iowa, has been highly critical of the Democratic leadership in the legislature. He also notes that statehouse Democrats are content to ignore far more serious loopholes in our campaign finance rules.

I’ve put the full text of that blog post after the jump, but here is a relevant excerpt:

The real loophole that needs closing is the one that allows legislative leaders to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from PACs and lobbyists, funnel it to special funds, and then ship it to targeted candidates.  Successful candidates are then reminded by leaders that they won because of the money funneled into their campaigns.

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board on April 6 criticized the proposed legislation on different grounds:

A thistle to Democratic legislators who would bar candidates from drawing a salary from campaign donors. This bill (aimed at Ed Fallon, who is challenging Leonard Boswell) is an Incumbent Protection Act. Challengers who give up day jobs to run for office must fend for themselves or be independently wealthy. Meanwhile, the taxpayers support or subsidize incumbents. If contributors want to spend their own money for the care and feeding of a candidate, it is no business of the Iowa Legislature.

Incidentally, Fallon gave up two paying jobs in order to run for governor: his seat in the Iowa House (in a safe Democratic district), and his part-time position as executive director of the non-profit organization 1000 Friends of Iowa (a group I am involved with).

To my mind, the controversy over Fallon’s salary in 2006 is just another facet of Boswell’s effort to direct third district voters’ attention toward anything but how the incumbent has voted during his six terms in Congress.

Posted to “Ed’s blog” at Fallon for Congress on April 2:

I’M for Iowa focuses primarily on state-level issues.  When the Legislature is in session, we help you let your voice be heard.  We give kudos and criticism to Democrats and Republicans alike.  We’ve had good things to say about Secretary of State Michael Mauro.  We’ve had both praise and criticism for Governor Culver.

Regrettably, we haven’t been able to say much good about the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate this year.  On so many key issues – including campaign finance, hog confinements, and eminent domain – they have done nothing.

Yet, there’s a price to be paid for being vocal.  At least for me there is.  (I’ve also discovered there’s a price to be paid for running against a sitting Democratic congressman!)  Although lawmakers certainly have better things to do, it seems I have become a legislative issue this year.

The other day, Rep. Rick Olson announced a bill that would prevent a candidate from being paid to work on his or her campaign.  They’re calling it a bill to close “the Fallon loophole.”   They refer to my campaign for governor.  After I lost the primary, we paid the bills and still had about $30,000 in the bank.  I am always careful to finish campaigns in the black, but so much money came in toward the end of the campaign that we were left with more than expected.

Though the campaign was over, there was still plenty of work to do with data entry, file drawers, computer files, and office equipment.  I also wanted to make sure the key issues in my campaign continued to receive attention through the general election.  So, three staff and I stayed on part-time.  I worked about 30 hours per week from June through November, earning $13,750.  I spent much of my spare time campaigning for Chet Culver, Denise O’Brien and a handful of other Democrats.  Between the money I earned from my campaign and my legislative salary, my total earned income in 2006 was about $35,000.

The truth is, this is a non issue.  I spoke with Charlie Smithson at Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and he assured me that I, along with other staff, could be paid to work on campaign related tasks.  The real loophole that needs closing is the one that allows legislative leaders to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from PACs and lobbyists, funnel it to special funds, and then ship it to targeted candidates.  Successful candidates are then reminded by leaders that they won because of the money funneled into their campaigns.  Those leaders are then re-elected to their positions of power, the PACs and lobbyists continue to pour money into their coffers for the next round of campaigns, and everybody’s happy.

Everybody, that is, except you and me.  Sometimes I feel like shouting, “How dumb do we look?”  Is it any wonder that Rep. Pam Jochum’s excellent campaign finance reform bill dies for lack of leadership support?  Or that Rep. Mark Kuhn’s efforts to better regulate hog confinements are shot down year after year?  Or that Rep. Tymeson and Rep. Kaufmann’s efforts on eminent domain this year go nowhere?

So, here’s what I’ll ask you to do, and to do it right away since this legislation may come up as early as tomorrow.  Call or e-mail your representative and senator.  Tell them that, instead of wasting their time taking pot shots at me, they should do something meaningful for clean elections.  Tell them that if they have time to close “the Fallon loophole,” they certainly have time to close the soft-money loophole.  And they certainly have time to pass Jochum’s campaign finance reform bill as well.

The sad part is the Democratic Party has so much to offer.  Rank-and-file democratic activists are, by and large, passionate people who care deeply about issues.  There is so much good the Party could do in both Iowa and Washington, DC, if only leadership would free itself from the shackles of corporate cash.  If Iowa House and Senate Democrats fail to do that, if they fail to put the public interest ahead of special interests, they may well lose their majority status this year.  And that would be a shame.  

  • Why is the Register taking its cues from Boswell?

    Every time Boswell spits out a distraction, the Register happily follows along.  Is there no one there who can ask questions and think?  Ever since Fallon ran for the Iowa House many have tried to dismiss or belittle him.  The Register has fostered this attitude.  

    That said, Iowa House and Senate Democrats are not off the hook.  It’s unbelievable that they will spend time on something like “the Fallon loophole” and neglect campaign finance reform, clean water and air, and on and on.

    • well, most mainstream newspapers

      take their cue from politicians press conferences and press releases. Rarely are politicians’ statements fact-checked (for instance, when Boswell says most of his PAC contributions come from labor PACs).

      I’ve actually been surprised that the Register’s coverage hasn’t been more tilted to Boswell, given how they generally ignored or dismissed Fallon during the 2006 gubernatorial primary (compared to how much coverage Culver and Blouin got).

      This is payback time for a lot of House and Senate Democrats who never liked Fallon. It’s sad, because personal feelings should not affect the legislative agenda.

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