Watchdog filed IRS complaint against dark money group run by Chris Rants

An advocacy group run by former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants "is operating with the primary purpose of influencing political campaigns" in violation of federal tax code, according to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Last month CREW filed Internal Revenue Service complaints against ten 501(c)(4) groups, which claim non-profit status as "social welfare" organizations but spent a large share of their funds on political activity during the 2014 election cycle. One of them was the Iowa-based Legacy Foundation Action Fund, for which Rants serves as president and secretary. (The fund did not seek to influence any Iowa elections in 2014.) CREW also filed criminal complaints against six of the ten groups for "falsely representing the amount of money they spent on political activity in 2014"; the Legacy Foundation Action Fund was not among them.

Although Rants’s 501(c)(4) does not disclose its donors, CREW was able to determine that most of its 2014 funding came from American Encore, a "secretive" 501(c)(4) group "formerly known as the Center to Protect Patient Rights." American Encore has been described as "the linchpin" of the Koch brothers dark money network. The Legacy Foundation Action Fund reported $980,000 in "contributions and grants" on its 2014 tax return; $880,000 of that amount came from American Encore.

More details on CREW’s IRS complaint are below. Rants responded via e-mail, "I am confident that Legation Foundation Action Fund is in compliance with the IRS rules. Legal counsel is reviewing the tax returns and we will file any amendment necessary to ensure the tax returns accurately reflected the organizations actives."

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NRA's Iowa affiliate targeting four Senate Democrats

The Iowa Firearms Coalition, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, has formed a political action committee that is targeting four Democratic-held Iowa Senate districts in its effort to strip power from "anti-gun Senate majority leaders." The strategy is logical, because in recent years several high-profile gun bills died in the upper chamber after clearing the Republican-controlled Iowa House.

However, I was surprised to see a couple of Senate races missing from the Iowa Firearms Coalition PAC’s list.

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Early signs from the Trump and Clinton campaigns in Iowa

Donald Trump just fired his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, an unpopular figure among reporters and even in some pro-Trump circles. The person who interviewed Eric Branstad to run Trump’s Iowa operation is no longer with the campaign either, O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa today. But Governor Terry Branstad is all in for the presumptive GOP nominee:

“I’m certainly going to do all I can. I think people know me well that I’m not a shrinking violet,” Branstad told reporters. “I tend to be one that gets proactively involved and I certainly intend to in this campaign, as I have in the past.”

Branstad had hoped Trump would consider Senator Joni Ernst to be his running mate, but Ernst told reporters on June 16, "Nobody has reached out to me" from the Trump campaign. Unnamed Republican sources told Politico’s Eli Stokols and Burgess Everett that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich top the VP short list, with Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama "a distant third" and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin "also in the mix."

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign plans to spend at least $1.2 million on television advertising in Iowa during June and July. According to NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann, Clinton will spend $568,000 to run spots in the Des Moines market, $427,000 in the market covering Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, and Dubuque, $155,000 in the Omaha market, and $37,000 in Ottumwa/Kirksville, Missouri. After the jump I’ve enclosed the video of the first three general election ads the campaign is running in Iowa and seven other battleground states. One 60-second spot, similar to commercials run here before the Iowa caucuses, recounts Clinton’s decades-long advocacy for children. A separate 30-second spot focuses on her efforts to expand health insurance coverage for children. The final 60-second spot highlights the contrasting styles of Clinton and Trump, shown saying at rallies, "I’d like to punch him in the face" and "Knock the crap out of him, would you?", along with the notorious clip mocking a reporter with a physical disability.

Public Policy Polling’s latest Iowa survey showed Clinton leading Trump here by 44 percent to 41 percent. The Democratic candidate’s favorable/unfavorable numbers were 42 percent/55 percent, which would not be promising except that Trump’s ratings are even worse: 33 percent favorable/64 percent unfavorable. That poll did not ask respondents whether they approved of Branstad’s work as governor.

UPDATE: Added below Branstad’s comments on Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country.

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IA-Sen: EMILY's List backing Patty Judge despite imperfect pro-choice record

Former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge got a boost this morning, with a poll showing her only seven points behind U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Yesterday her campaign received good news on the fundraising front: an endorsement from EMILY’s List, a political action committee focused on electing pro-choice Democratic women. Since endorsing Monica Vernon last year in Iowa’s first Congressional district, EMILY’s List has helped raise more than $60,000 for Vernon’s campaign. In addition, Women Vote!, a super-PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, spent $149,000 on advertising promoting Vernon before the Democratic primary.

Though Judge is pro-choice, I didn’t see any mention of her reproductive rights record in the EMILY’s List press release announcing yesterday’s endorsement (enclosed below) or on the page promoting Judge on the PAC’s website. Instead, the group described other aspects of Judge’s political career, touting her as "a champion for Iowa women and working families" in a "high-stakes race against an out-of-touch GOP incumbent."

The omission made me wonder whether Judge was a consistent pro-choice vote in the Iowa Senate.

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Iowa Conservation Voters PAC

Guest posts on behalf of progressive advocacy groups are welcome here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The following post is submitted by Mark Langgin, Mike Delaney and Rob Davis, board members of Iowa Conservation Voters. Langgin is a partner with GPS Impact and has worked with a number of local and national conservation organizations. Delaney is founder of the Raccoon River Watershed Association and a leading environmental activist. Davis is a former broadcast journalist, former business owner, and in retirement worked as a clerk in the Iowa House of Representatives.

If you’re interested in clean drink water, protection of Iowa’s water/land/wildlife, access and permanent protection of public lands, and fighting global climate change, listen up.

The 2016 legislative session was a major disappointment – with little to no progress on significant water quality legislation, continued underfunding of REAP and a wide array of other environmental failures. The lone exception was legislation to help protect turtles from overharvesting for profit.

If you are as disappointed as we are, then you know Iowa needs legislators who are committed to protecting Iowa’s water, land and wildlife from pollution and climate change.

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Ten Iowa legislative incumbents who raised surprisingly little for their re-election campaigns

Since the latest deadline for state legislative candidates to report to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board passed on May 19, I’ve been going through the forms filed by incumbents or challengers in potentially competitive races.

Some of the contribution totals were much lower than I expected to see.

Follow me after the jump for ten Iowa House or Senate incumbents who haven’t been focused on fundraising, even though they could face tough re-election campaigns.

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