Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz confirmed on Tuesday that he is seriously considering running for the open seat in Iowa’s third Congressional district. He’ll make up his mind during the next few weeks.
The more I think about the potential risks and benefits for Schultz, the more I think he will go for it.
1. Schultz has always seen his current office as a stepping stone to something bigger.
He had no particular expertise in managing elections when he ran for Iowa secretary of state in 2010. Whereas his predecessor in that office kept a low profile, Schultz has repeatedly let his political ambitions show. In 2011, he publicly criticized GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and endorsed Rick Santorum less than a month before the Iowa caucuses. He is a frequent presence at local GOP events around the state. His primary focus (fighting voter fraud) is a classic case of a politically popular solution in search of a problem.
Last spring, Schultz thought hard about running for U.S. Senate. Now that Senator Chuck Grassley has announced that he’ll run for a seventh term in 2016, the open seat in IA-03 may be Schultz’s best chance to move up for some time. My father used to say, “When the pie is being passed around, that’s the time to take a slice.”
2. As a weak fundraiser, Schultz has a better chance of winning a Congressional primary than a statewide primary.
Schultz grew up in Polk County and was an elected city council member in Council Bluffs, the second-largest metro area in the district.
State Senator Brad Zaun showed in 2010 that a candidate with an electoral track record and a reasonably high profile can win a crowded primary in IA-03 even if he is outspent by someone with fancy television commercials and quite a lot of establishment support in Iowa and in Washington.
Staying in his current job could set Schultz up to run for governor in 2018. But even if he wins re-election next year (no sure thing), he would face big obstacles in a statewide GOP primary. He might not have a clear path if Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is governor by that time. He would have to raise a lot more money to fund direct mail and advertising statewide than in a Congressional primary.
3. As a Congressional candidate, Schultz would receive more outside help in the general election than if he runs for secretary of state again.
The Des Moines rumor mill expects a very large fundraising report next month from Brad Anderson, the only declared Democratic candidate for secretary of state. I assume Anderson will be the nominee because he had already raised more than $100,000 by the end of April 2013, and he has overwhelming support from prominent Iowa Democrats and key interest groups. (Former Secretary of State Michael Mauro did not respond to a recent request for comment on whether he is still considering a political comeback next year.)
A few big Republican donors and conservative advocacy groups get involved in secretary of state races, but it’s nothing like the infrastructure supporting GOP candidates in U.S. House races. Organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS will run ads attacking the Democratic nominee in IA-03 no matter who the candidates are. That could be a lifeline for Schultz in a general election.
4. Schultz has a thin record to run on next year, and that’s unlikely to change, even if he wins another term as secretary of state.
The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble exposed this week the embarrassing results of Schultz’s focus on rooting out voter fraud.
Since then [July 2012], according to figures provided by the secretary’s office, the effort has yielded criminal charges in 16 cases, of which five have resulted in guilty pleas and five have been dismissed. None of the cases has, as yet, gone to trial.The DCI has been paid $149,200 for its efforts so far and could receive up to $280,000 out of the secretary of state’s budget.
Three of the guilty pleas involved registration by felons whose voting rights had not been restored, including one who also was not a U.S. citizen.
A fourth case concerned a woman who obtained and cast an absentee ballot on behalf of her daughter, while a fifth was an identity theft case in which a man registered to vote while applying for a driver’s license in the name of his dead brother.
In all three cases involving felons, the accused and their lawyers said they believed their rights had been restored. They pleaded guilty, lawyers said, because the deals offered by prosecutors were safer bets than going to trial and risking prison time.
More than 1 million Iowans voted in the 2010 general election, and more than 1.5 million voted in 2012. That’s more than 2.5 million ballots cast in the last two general elections. If 10 percent of votes in Iowa were fraudulent, that would represent 250,000 ballots. 1 percent = 25,000 cases of fraud. One-tenth of 1 percent = 2,500 cases of fraud. One-hundredth of 1 percent = 250 cases of fraud. One-thousandth of 1 percent = 25 cases of fraud.
With a full-time investigator on the case, Schultz has not uncovered even 25 fraud cases. He’s got a few allegedly ineligible voters who registered (not all of whom voted) and a few improperly cast ballots. The photo ID law he so desperately wants to enact would not have prevented any of these cases, because Iowans don’t need an ID to cast an absentee ballot, and all of the allegedly ineligible voters had valid driver’s licenses.
Schultz says the money and resources dedicated to the investigation were worth it because it proves voter fraud does exist. “Iowans expect us to do something when we know there’s a problem,” he said.
A handful of cases, including people who were understandably confused about the law, and others in which people never voted, does not constitute a major “problem.”
Everyone should obey Iowa’s election laws. But the bigger problem is an official using public money to further a political agenda and refusing to see the truth revealed by his investigation. Instead of this witch hunt, Schultz should focus on educating Iowans about voting laws to help them avoid making mistakes his investigation found.
Meanwhile, Iowa’s deputy state auditor found no evidence Schultz was entitled to use federal Help America Vote Act funds to pay for criminal investigations of alleged voter fraud. He advised Schultz to prepare himself:
Deputy Chief Auditor Warren Jenkins said in a letter that the federal Help America Vote Act “does not specifically address whether the investigation of complaints and potential criminal activity is an allowable expenditure under HAVA.”
As a result, he recommended Schultz develop a repayment plan should his office be asked to repay the funds.
Furthermore, I expect courts to reject Schultz’s plan to use a federal database to find and intimidate possible non-citizens who are registered to vote in Iowa.
Democrats are well-positioned to hold the Iowa Senate majority after the 2014 elections, which means Schultz’s showcase photo ID law is going nowhere.
If Schultz runs for Congress now, he can play the hero among Republican activists who overwhelmingly support his efforts to fight “voter fraud.” Unlike John Deeth, I think the appeal of this myth would transfer to a Congressional race.
What accomplishment will Schultz be able to run on in 2018, even if he has served two terms as secretary of state?
Oh, and by the way,
5. Schultz would have a hell of a fight against Anderson if he runs for re-election.
Assuming Anderson becomes the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, he will probably be able to outspend the incumbent. He has worked on many successful election campaigns, including as manager of President Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign during the 2012 general election. Last year, Campaigns and Elections magazine named Anderson one of the country’s top 500 “political influencers.”
I don’t believe the wishful thinking of some Democrats about Organizing for America sharing its Iowa database thanks to Anderson’s connections. Still, this candidate knows a lot about turning out voters. He will have the resources to point out Schultz’s failure to make the case for his signature policy and to promote a positive agenda. Anderson just released a five-step plan to make Iowa number one in voter turnout.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Schultz stays put. At least in his current job he’s guaranteed to be on the ballot in November 2014, which wouldn’t be the case if he lost the Republican primary in IA-03. But remember, Schultz never planned on a long stint as secretary of state. If he wants to move up, the time is now. With greater risk comes greater reward.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: A revealing passage from Jason Noble’s report for the Sunday Des Moines Register:
But when The Des Moines Register requested a copy of the secretary of state’s office’s plan, Schultz issued a statement indicating no plan had been developed. According to Schultz’s interpretation of Jenkins’ recommendation, a plan should be developed only if the Election Assistance Commission actually requests repayment.
In an interview Friday, though, Jenkins made clear that his advice to the secretary was to develop a plan now so that the office was ready to respond if the commission ever took action.
“We don’t know at this point how soon or how long it may take the EAC to make a decision and we don’t know in what budget year the financial impact could be,” Jenkins said. “So it would seem to make sense to do some planning now regardless of when the decision might come and what the decision might be.”
Schultz’s interpretation was reiterated by Charlie Smithson, the office’s legal counsel, in a statement Friday evening.
“Should the EAC request the office to repay any funds in the future, we will work with the EAC to create a plan pursuant to the state auditor’s recommendation,” Smithson said in the emailed statement.
I’m disappointed in Charlie Smithson. Really, you don’t think good management requires planning for all contingencies? You’d rather wing it in case the federal government comes asking for its money back?
Schultz can probably get away with this strategy, because the Election Assistance Commission doesn’t have the staff or resources to do its job right now. His successor may have to clean up his mess, though. Then Secretary of State Michael Mauro had to deal with the fallout from Chet Culver’s use of Help America Vote Act funds.