The Iowa legislature can't enforce its own disclosure rules

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against the Iowa Pharmacy Association, which entertained Governor Chet Culver and numerous state legislators in February but did not disclose the reception until after journalists started asking questions five months later. State Representative Kerry Burt, who attended the event, was arrested later that night for drunk driving. From an August 5 Iowa CCI press release:

Iowa CCI’s initial research has uncovered 26 additional late-filing disclosure violations by lobbyist groups during the 2009 legislative session.  This amount represents nearly one-third of the 90 reports that were filed in 2009.

“Today we are focusing on the Iowa Pharmacy Association because its disclosure violation is the most egregious example of abuse of the law by special-interest lobbyists, particularly because they only filed after they were caught,” [Iowa CCI’s State Policy Organizing Director Adam] Mason said.

This emerging and growing political scandal raises new questions about the ability of the House and Senate Ethics Committees to accurately monitor and regulate these types of events.

In 2005, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the reported amount of money spent at lobbying events.

I called Mason today with more questions and learned that Iowa CCI filed the complaint with the secretary of the Iowa Senate and the chief clerk of the Iowa House. According to Mason, the Iowa House and Senate Ethics Committees cannot investigate this kind of disclosure violation in the absence of a complaint filed by a third party.

The trouble is, no third party would typically be in a position to set this process in motion. If not for Burt’s bad judgment and bad luck, the public would never have known that the Iowa Pharmacy Association wined and dined policy-makers in February. Iowa CCI has been comparing the disclosure reports filed against the social calendar for legislators from the 2009 session, but Mason told me that not all details about entertainment offered to state legislators are available to the public. Some industry groups provide free travel, food or drinks to lawmakers when the legislature is out of session.

More disturbing, no one on the House or Senate Ethics Committees seems to be taking responsibility for enforcing the disclosure rules. In April, Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden admitted that no one checks the reception disclosures against the legislators’ social calendar. The Des Moines Register reported at the time that Dearden “does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly.”

Legislators should stop pretending to care about money in politics and start addressing real problems with our current system of campaign finance and lobbying. A good start would be to give oversight powers back to the State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

I’ve posted Iowa CCI’s full press release after the jump.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to Jason Hancock’s piece on this subject at Iowa Independent.

August 5, 2009

Contact:   Adam Mason

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, 515-282-0484 or 515-314-2655, iowacci@iowacci.org

Iowa CCI Files Ethics Complaint Against Iowa Pharmacy Association

Community Organization Demands Toughest Possible Sanctions

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) filed an ethics complaint against the Iowa Pharmacy Association on Wednesday, for violating disclosure laws after it hosted a reception for lawmakers last February but failed to file a disclosure report within five days.

The Iowa Pharmacy Association filed the disclosure paperwork five months late, and only after they were questioned about a $7,127 reception by reporters in the wake of the drunk driving arrest of Waterloo Rep Kerry Burt.

“This disclosure violation is the real scandal,” said Hugh Espey, Iowa CCI’s Executive Director.  “It deserves the toughest possible sanctions.  We need to send a strong message to the big-money lobbyists that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated.”

“This is a clear example of the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Adam Mason, Iowa CCI’s State Policy Organizing Director.  “They deserve the book thrown at them.”

Iowa CCI’s initial research has uncovered 26 additional late-filing disclosure violations by lobbyist groups during the 2009 legislative session.  This amount represents nearly one-third of the 90 reports that were filed in 2009.

“Today we are focusing on the Iowa Pharmacy Association because its disclosure violation is the most egregious example of abuse of the law by special-interest lobbyists, particularly because they only filed after they were caught,” Mason said.

This emerging and growing political scandal raises new questions about the ability of the House and Senate Ethics Committees to accurately monitor and regulate these types of events.

In 2005, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the reported amount of money spent at lobbying events.

Iowa CCI’s four-pronged strategy to reduce and eliminate the influence of big money on our political system is: 1.) better reporting, transparency, and disclosure (so everyday folks can see who’s trying to wine and dine, and influence, our elected officials); 2.) campaign contribution limits; 3.) public financing of elections; and 4.) better, tougher enforcement when campaign finance laws and rules are violated.

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