|All signs point to Branstad running for another term. He's always loved campaigning. He's hiring staff and raising lots of money. But Branstad and his team have been careful to acknowledge that he might not run. Here was the governor on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program last month:
Borg: I'M GOING TO POP THE QUESTION RIGHT NOW. FORECAST EARLIER. ARE YOU GOING TO SEEK RE-ELECTION?
Branstad: WELL, I'M NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT DECISION UNTIL 2014. I LOVE THIS JOB. I'M PROUD OF THE PROGRESS THAT LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR KIM REYNOLDS AND I ARE MAKING. AND WE'RE LAYING THE GROUNDWORK. WE'RE -- YOU KNOW, BUT I WON'T MAKE A FINAL DECISION UNTIL 2014. THE FILING DEADLINE IS IN MARCH.
Henderson: SO, WHAT IS THE MONEY THAT YOU'VE BEEN RAISING TO BE USED FOR IF NOT A CAMPAIGN?
Branstad: WELL, WE'RE LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR A CAMPAIGN. IF I DON'T RUN, I'M CONFIDENT THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR WILL. BUT I THINK IT'S VERY LIKELY WE'RE GOING TO KEEP THIS TEAM TOGETHER BECAUSE WE LOVE WORKING TOGETHER. I THINK WE'VE MADE GREAT PROGRESS. AND WE THINK THAT THERE'S STILL A LOT MORE TO DO.
This week, Branstad's campaign manager Jake Ketzner drew laughs from a conservative audience by referring to the governor's "potential" re-election campaign.
[Jake] Ketzner explained what this "potential" campaign is doing. "Our mission is very simple: We are to lay the ground work for a campaign should the governor and lieutenant governor choose to seek re-election."
He said Branstad is a well-known believer of organization. "For the next six to eight months, we are focused on rebuilding the Branstad organization." He indicated a back-to-basics approach to recover from GOP losses in 2012, consisting of message, money and organization. [...]
Political director Phil Valenziano said his role will be building the ground game. He noted that the campaign is organizing earlier than it did four years ago. "Four years ago at this time, there was no Branstad-Reynolds campaign, he said. "So we're starting early because we want to have the best organization that we've ever put together in the state," he said.
He said the expectation will be that the Branstad-Reynolds organization will help Republicans up and down the ballot.
"The team we're putting together right now is one that will carry Republicans around the state to success in 2014," he said.
They seem careful to talk about the "Branstad-Reynolds team" and the "Branstad-Reynolds organization" rather than the governor's re-election bid. Just like Branstad went out of his way to tell the "Iowa Press" panel that he won't make a final decision until next year, and that Reynolds will run for governor if he doesn't.
In my opinion, only a severe chronic or degenerative health problem could stop Branstad from running for governor again. But if he doesn't plan to run, it would be wise to keep that information secret until mid-March 2014. Kim Reynolds was little-known with only two years' experience in the Iowa Senate when Branstad chose her as his running mate in June 2010. She doesn't have a signature issue or a large constituency within the Republican base. I doubt she could win a statewide primary against real competition.
What if Reynolds' competition doesn't have time to qualify for the primary ballot?
Candidates seeking a political party's nomination for a statewide office must file papers at the Iowa Secretary of State's Office by 5 pm on Friday, March 14, 2014. Every election year, some Iowa legislator announces retirement plans at the last minute, when it's challenging for anyone but a hand-picked successor to get organized and meet the deadline. But at least candidates for the Iowa House and Senate need only 50 or 100 signatures from their districts. A person can collect that many in a day or two.
In contrast, a Republican candidate for governor in 2014 will need to submit nominating petitions with at least 3,654 valid signatures, spread across at least ten Iowa counties (this pdf file spells out minimum numbers from any county that a candidate needs to count toward the total). If Branstad announces on, say, March 12 that he's decided against a sixth term, who else besides the mighty Branstad-Reynolds organization would have time to submit valid nominating papers by March 14?
The next question is whether Reynolds could finance a gubernatorial campaign with the Branstad-Reynolds treasury (already containing more than $2 million cash on hand).
Megan Tooker, executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, confirmed by telephone today that the Branstad-Reynolds committee cannot simply rename itself Reynolds for Iowa or some such. Nor can the Branstad-Reynolds committee transfer its funds to the Kim Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor committee.
Tooker pointed me to Iowa Code 68A.303, which governs the transfer of campaign funds.
1. In addition to the uses permitted under section 68A.302, a candidate's committee may only transfer campaign funds in one or more of the following ways:
a. Contributions to charitable organizations unless the candidate or the candidate's spouse, child, stepchild, brother, brother-in-law, stepbrother, sister, sister-in-law, stepsister, parent, parent-in-law, or stepparent is employed by the charitable organization and will receive a direct financial benefit from a contribution.
b. Contributions to national, state, or local political party central committees, or to partisan political committees organized to represent persons within the boundaries of a congressional district.
c. Transfers to the treasurer of state for deposit in the general fund of the state, or to the appropriate treasurer for deposit in the general fund of a political subdivision of the state.
d. Return of contributions to contributors on a pro rata basis, except that any contributor who contributed five dollars or less may be excluded from the distribution.
e. Contributions to another candidate's committee when the candidate for whom both committees are formed is the same person.
In other words, the Branstad-Reynolds committee could transfer its funds to "national, state, or local political party central committees," but not to "Kim Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor."
Tooker also directed me to this May 2012 advisory opinion about whether Iowa law permits "a separate campaign committee for Lieutenant Governor." Excerpt (emphasis added):
We find nothing in Iowa law to prohibit a candidate for Lieutenant Governor from establishing and maintaining a committee for the office of Lieutenant Governor. Chapter 68A allows every candidate to establish one candidate's committee for a specific office sought. Id. § 68A.202(1). While a gubernatorial candidate's committee is certainly permitted to pay for the campaign activities of the Lieutenant Governor candidate that advocate for the election of the candidate for Governor, the gubernatorial candidate's committee is not the committee of the Lieutenant Governor candidate. See id. § 68A.301(1); IECDB AO 2006-08. [...]
We therefore interpret Iowa law to permit-but not require-a candidate for Lieutenant Governor to establish a separate committee for the office of Lieutenant Governor. Since candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor run as "teams" and no separate vote is cast for the office of Lieutenant Governor, we believe either the gubernatorial candidate's committee or the Lieutenant Governor's committee is permitted to make expenditures to promote the election of the "team." In other words, once a party nominates a candidate for Governor and a candidate for Lieutenant Governor to run in the general election where such candidates receive a single vote as a unit, a gubernatorial candidate's committee is permitted to make expenditures promoting him or herself and the same party's Lieutenant Governor candidate, and vice versa. However, the committees may not make contributions to one another. See Iowa Code § 68A.301(1).
The next question is whether the Branstad-Reynolds committee could give several million dollars to the Republican Party of Iowa, the Republican National Committee, or some local Republican Party committee, with the understanding that the money would be funneled to Kim Reynolds' campaign. State Senator Bill Dix indirectly contributed to several Iowa Senate GOP candidates in 2010 by bouncing funds through the Butler County Republican Central Committee.
Given the none-too-friendly relations between Iowa GOP leaders and Branstad, I doubt anyone at state party headquarters would go along with that scheme. It would look dirty for Branstad's team to dump a ton of money on a county central committee which then handed it over to Reynolds. The RNC might also be skittish about participating in a scheme that would appear designed to evade Iowa law preventing transfers from a defunct candidate committee to another candidate's committee. A legal challenge would surely ensue.
The Republican Governors Association shells out millions of dollars to support gubernatorial candidates, but as a registered 527 organization it does not appear to be a valid recipient of Branstad-Reynolds transfers under Iowa Code 68A.303.
To sum up, I don't think it would fly for Branstad to step aside for Reynolds right before the filing deadline. Then again, stranger things have happened in politics. I'll be interested to see whether any other Republicans start gathering signatures on nominating petitions next year, just in case Branstad doesn't file as a candidate for governor.
Spin your own IA-Gov scenarios in the comments.