Branstad's commission on Central Iowa Expo work violated best fundraising practices

The latest "Civic Skinny" column in the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview explores an angle that hadn’t occurred to me when I read Jason Noble’s excellent recent reports about "ongoing financial struggles" for the Central Iowa Expo facility in Boone.

Noble documented “red flags” surrounding the initial business plan for the facility, which received substantial aid from Boone County and a $5 million federal loan guarantee. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials “felt pressure to approve” the loan guarantee and agreed thanks to “assurances by expo officials of substantial fundraising by two of the most powerful men in Iowa: once and future Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican super-lawyer Doug Gross.”

Civic Skinny took a closer look at Branstad’s fundraising for the Boone venue.  

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Weekend open thread: Des Moines pride and GOP clown car edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

According to Gallup’s latest well-being survey of people in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, residents of the Des Moines metro area “are the most likely to say they are proud of their community,” with some 76.5 percent of central Iowa respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with a statement about community pride. Gallup’s write-up noted a correlation between that sentiment and feeling “safe and secure.” A remarkable 85.7 percent of Des Moines area respondents said they “always feel safe and secure,” a higher level than in any other metro area Gallup surveyed.

Washington Post reporter Philip Bump speculated, “The two proudest cities are in Iowa and S.C., because people love being fawned over by politicians.” I really don’t think so.

In the past few years, at least three dozen lists measuring quality of life or economic factors have put the Des Moines area in the top five or ten communities nationwide. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has raved about some of the amenities our metro has to offer. Having lived in a couple of great American cities and a couple of great European cities, I moved back to the Des Moines area for the long haul. Although I am way more politically engaged than the average person, I wouldn’t factor presidential candidate visits into a decision on where to raise my children.

Speaking of being fawned over by politicians, eleven declared or potential contenders for the presidency spoke at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner last night. Three declared candidates missed the event (former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), as did at least a couple of others who are considering the presidential race (Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie). A dozen or more candidates will likely crowd the stage at GOP primary debates. My thoughts about the Lincoln Dinner speakers are coming in a future post. Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson wrote a good piece for the Washington Post on Republican insiders’ growing anxiety about their large presidential field. Their sources included a heavyweight hated by many Iowa conservatives:

We’re in a danger zone,” said Doug Gross, a top Republican establishment figure in Iowa. “When the party poobahs put this process together, they thought they could telescope this to get us a nominee who could appeal to a broad cross-section of people. What we’ve got instead is a confederation of a lot of candidates who aren’t standing out – and in order to stand out, you need to scream the loudest.”

Speaking of people who stand out by screaming loudly, Representative Steve King posted a picture of himself yesterday with Dick and Betty Odgaard, who (in his words) were “targeted by LGBT activists/litigated out of 1man/1woman wedding business.” False. Here’s what really happened after the Odgaards refused to let a gay couple rent the Görtz Haus in Grimes for a wedding.  

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IA-Sen: Ernst feels like front-runner, preparing general election pivot

State Senator Joni Ernst told the Washington Post last week, "I consider myself the front-runner" for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. I agree, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed here—and that was before I knew Ernst had snagged one of the ultimate conservative establishment endorsements: from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In what must be a painful blow to Mark Jacobs, who has made business prowess a cornerstone of his Senate campaign, Chamber of Commerce National Political Director Rob Engstrom said in today’s press release,

“Joni understands that big government is an impediment to job creation, and that the best way to turn the economy around and create jobs is through pro-growth economic policies. The U.S Chamber is proud to stand with Joni and highlight her work removing regulatory barriers and encouraging competition in Iowa. In today’s economy, that’s the type of leadership we need in Washington.”

I don’t know what work they’re talking about—as a first-term state senator in the minority caucus, Ernst hasn’t been in a position to remove regulatory barriers or encourage competition. More likely, the Chamber of Commerce settled on Ernst as the most credible alternative to Jacobs.

Over at The Iowa Republican blog, Craig Robinson reviews recent tv ads and campaign spending in the IA-Sen primary. By June 3, Jacobs will have spent more than $1.4 million on broadcast and cable television, plus about $24,000 on radio spots. Based on ad time Ernst has reserved up to now, she will close out the primary race having spent just under $240,000 on broadcast and cable tv. She and her strategists must feel very confident; otherwise they would allocate more campaign funds ($427,201 cash on hand as of March 31) to paid media.

In their Washington Post piece about how Ernst’s debut tv ad “transformed Iowa’s U.S. Senate race,” Philip Rucker and Dan Balz quoted Jacobs supporters Nick Ryan and Doug Gross criticizing Ernst’s ads. Her media consultant Todd Harris shot back, “People should remember that Joni is a mom, a grandmother who has volunteered at a crisis hotline, and that part of her bio will be told.” Thanks for the preview of Ernst’s general election transformation: the pig castrating, Harley-riding, leather-wearing “farm girl” who’s going to “unload” on Obamacare will become a mom and grandmother who volunteered at a crisis hotline. I’m surprised anyone with experience comforting victims would use “Make ‘Em Squeal” as the main slogan on her t-shirts, bumper stickers and campaign bus. Many Americans instantly recognize that phrase from a rape scene in the movie “Deliverance.”

Any comments about the IA-Sen race are welcome in this thread.

P.S. – I think Balz and Rucker should have acknowledged the convenient timing of Ernst’s tiny ad buy for the “Squeal” spot. I find it hard to believe that a campaign endorsed by Mitt Romney didn’t get any advance warning from the Romney-connected outside groups America Rising and Priorities for Iowa, which dropped a bomb on Bruce Braley just as Ernst launched that attention-getting ad.

UPDATE: The National Rifle Association announced its endorsement of Ernst on May 13. The press release is after the jump.

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Branstad's chief of staff Jeff Boeyink to step down

Governor Terry Branstad will be shopping for a new chief of staff for the first time since the 1990s. Jeff Boeyink announced today that he is stepping down for an unspecified private sector job, effective September 6. After many years with the conservative advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief, Boeyink briefly served as executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa before leaving to manage Branstad’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. After the 2010 election, Boeyink co-chaired the governor’s transition team, and he has served as chief of staff ever since.

I’ve posted the press release from the governor’s office after the jump. Note the careful mention of Branstad’s “potential” re-election bid, and the conspicuous effort to mention Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds’ name and title as often as possible. The governor’s re-election campaign has engaged in similar branding of the Branstad-Reynolds “team,” fueling rumors in some circles that Reynolds will become the last-minute gubernatorial candidate next spring.

The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs listed some possible successors to Boeyink. The governor’s legal counsel Brenna Findley used to serve as Representative Steve King’s chief of staff before she ran for Iowa attorney general in 2010. David Roederer has long been in Branstad’s inner circle and now heads the Iowa Department of Management. Former Iowa GOP staffer Chad Olsen is currently chief of staff for Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Michael Bousselot has been advising Branstad on health care and other issues. Sara Craig was state director of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Iowa before the 2012 caucuses. Matt Hinch has held many political jobs and is now senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the Greater Des Moines Partnership. I can’t imagine that Doug Gross would want to go back to the job he held nearly 30 years ago. Former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn is busy with his new consulting and lobbying firm.

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New IA-Sen Republican candidate speculation thread

Republicans thinking about running for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat next year are still in a holding pattern, waiting for Representative Steve King to make up his mind. Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal just dropped his "King Meter" from 63 to 58, reflecting only a slightly better than 50-50 chance that King will run for Senate. If Bleeding Heartland had a King Meter, it would have started at zero and stayed there.

Today former GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross predicted that neither King nor two other prominent Iowa Republicans will run for the Senate in 2014.

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Big victory for casino backers in Linn County

Linn County voters have strongly endorsed a plan to build a casino in the middle of Cedar Rapids. With almost all precincts reporting, "yes" leads "no" by 36,076 votes to 22,763 (61 percent to 39 percent). The referendum does not guarantee that the project will move forward. In 2010, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected applications for new casinos in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama County despite public support. Commissioners determined that those projects would primarily draw business away from Iowa’s existing casinos. On the other hand, Governor Terry Branstad has close ties to key figures supporting the Cedar Rapids project and has appointed several new members of the Racing and Gaming Commission.

Owners of casinos in Riverside and Waterloo bankrolled the “no” campaign in Linn County. Critics slammed them for profiting from Iowa bettors while paying for warnings about the potential social costs of gambling in Cedar Rapids. Dan Kehl, CEO of the Riverside casino, attempted a hail-Mary pass last Friday, promising to build a family-friendly water park in central Cedar Rapids if voters rejected the casino. In my opinion, Kehl’s hypocrisy and desperation do not invalidate the strong arguments against casinos as economic development projects. But the Linn County voters have spoken.

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