Miller requests special prosecutor for casino donor investigation

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced yesterday that he is asking the State Executive Council to appoint a special prosecutor to look into allegations that three backers of a new casino in Fort Dodge made illegal contributions to Governor Chet Culver’s re-election campaign. Miller is recommending Lawrence Scalise, who is both a former attorney general and a former chairman of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

“This was not an easy decision,” Miller said [in a prepared statement]. “My office has rarely withdrawn from a case in this manner. However, I believe the need for public confidence in the criminal justice process outweighs any other consideration.”

Miller did the right thing. A longtime aide in the Attorney General’s Office, Donn Stanley, has just taken over as campaign manager for Governor Culver. Although no one from the Culver campaign appears to be a target in the criminal investigation, there is clear potential for a conflict of interest. Republicans would have screamed about a cover-up if an investigator from Miller’s office found no wrongdoing by the governor’s campaign. Brenna Findley, the Republican candidate for attorney general, has been calling on Miller to step back from the investigation.

The three Fort Dodge residents whose donations have been questioned say their contributions to Culver’s campaign came from personal funds, and a spokeswoman for the company that would manage a new casino in Fort Dodge has denied that the company instructed its local consultants to give to Culver’s campaign.

On Tuesday the Racing and Gaming Commission held a lengthy hearing about four applications for new Iowa casinos. Culver has publicly supported new casinos for a long time and sent commissioners a letter in March urging them to approve all four applications. A decision is expected on May 13. My hunch is that only the casino proposed for Lyon County in far northwest Iowa will be approved, because it is unlikely to draw business away from any of Iowa’s existing casinos. The nearest population center is Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  

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Yet another new campaign manager for Culver

Governor Chet Culver’s campaign has yet another new manager coming in on May 1. Donn Stanley will take a leave of absence from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to run the governor’s re-election effort, as Abby Curran leaves for Washington. I posted the Culver campaign’s press release after the jump.

The turnover within the governor’s campaign during the past year is not an encouraging sign. Last year, John Kirincich joined Culver’s staff and was “expected to play a key role” in the campaign, but Kirincich “quietly left the governor’s office” after only a few months. Andrew Roos came in to run the campaign in September but resigned at the end of November. Curran became the new manager in January. Soon after that, deputy campaign manager Jesse Harris and finance director Grace Van Cleave left the campaign. Teresa Vilmain has been a senior consultant to the Culver campaign since last summer, but it’s not clear whether she will stay on beyond next month.

Let’s hope the current reshuffle is the last. Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

P.S.- It turns out I am unable to complete this post without a reference to Spinal Tap drummers.

UPDATE: I learned something new in Tuesday’s Des Moines Register:

Stanley said staff turnover is common and pointed to the 1998 campaign of Culver’s predecessor, Tom Vilsack, who went through three managers before tapping John Cacciatore three months before his come-from-behind election.

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Gordon Fischer is seeking a U.S. Attorney appointment

Jason Hancock has the story at Iowa Independent: former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer wants to become the U.S. Attorney for Iowa’s southern district. He is asking prominent Democrats to “reach out to Sen. [Tom] Harkin on my behalf, with either a letter, or phone call, or (preferably) both.”

Fischer wasn’t a particularly early supporter of Barack Obama by Iowa standards, but he was an enthusiastic one, as any regular reader of his blog Iowa True Blue can attest.

Sometimes Fischer was a bit too caught up in the primary wars, by his own admission. Even though I never backed Hillary Clinton for president, I also felt Fischer went too far on more than one occasion (like when he approvingly quoted Andrew Sullivan’s casual reference to the Clintons as “sociopaths”).

One Clinton supporter even filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Fischer because of his blogging. The FEC found no evidence to substantiate the allegations made in that complaint.

I have no idea whether Fischer is the leading candidate the U.S. Attorney job. Anyone hear about other Iowa lawyers who are putting their names in for this one?

I have no opinion about who should get the appointment, as long as it’s someone who won’t prosecute members of the other political party on very thin evidence.

UPDATE: Someone in a position to know tells me that several others have applied for this position, including Iowa Assistant Attorney General Donn Stanley and Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democrats.

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