Weekend open thread: ISU cronyism and favoritism edition

Insider dealing at the University of Iowa has drawn intense scrutiny since President Bruce Harreld’s hiring last year. This week, several news reports cast an unflattering light on the culture President Steven Leath is fostering at Iowa State University.

The July 9 Des Moines Register carried a front-page story by Lee Rood on Leath’s recent purchase of land from one of the companies controlled by Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. After trying to weasel out of answering questions regarding what he called his “personal life,” Leath insisted he got no “special deal” on the land. However, the arrangement appears highly irregular, as discussed below following excerpts from Rood’s article.

Two recent stories by Vanessa Miller for the Cedar Rapids Gazette raised further questions about what kind of operation Leath is running. Click through to read about the hiring of former Republican lawmaker Jim Kurtenbach for a high-paying job that was never advertised, as well as Kurtenbach’s restructuring of ISU’s information technology services unit, which involved eliminating 23 positions and paying 19 people not to work since May 25. Excerpts from those stories are below as well.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

P.S.- Speaking of cozy Republican networks, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on Friday that the University of Iowa “is retaining a social media startup company with Republican Party ties that benefited from earlier no-bid contracts.” Wholecrowd is run by Jim Anderson, who served as Iowa GOP executive director during part of the time the University of Iowa’s current Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes was a staffer for the GOP state Senate caucus. Under no-bid contracts Matthes signed with former Iowa GOP state party chair Matt Strawn’s company, Wholecrowd did the same kind of “digital advocacy” work as a subcontractor. The university’s new contract, signed directly with Wholecrowd after a competitive bidding process, seems to have cut Strawn out as the middleman.

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Five troubling aspects of the University of Iowa's no-bid contracts with Matt Strawn

As if we haven’t heard enough lately about backroom dealings involving the University of Iowa, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press,

The University of Iowa has quietly awarded several no-bid contracts totaling $321,900 to a prominent GOP consultant for polling and social media services often delivered through subcontractors, a review by The Associated Press discovered.

Critics say the contracts with former Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn’s namesake company — uncovered through a public records request — look like a sweetheart deal among Republican insiders and a potential waste of money.

That’s putting it mildly.

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Hey, Republicans: Bruce Braley can multitask

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee confirmed yesterday that Representative Bruce Braley will co-chair the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program this year. Red to Blue candidates are Democratic challengers seeking to win Republican-held House districts. DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen noted this week that even in a “tough cycle for Democrats,”

The DCCC is focused on not only protecting our threatened incumbents, but also staying aggressively on offense. The talented leadership of our battle-tested Red to Blue chairs Bruce Braley, Allyson Schwartz, Patrick Murphy, and Donna Edwards will ensure Democratic candidates have the infrastructure and support they need to be successful.

The Republican Party of Iowa responded with a boilerplate statement accusing Braley of being loyal to “San Franciscan Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi” instead of the citizens of Iowa’s first Congressional district. Their attacks on Braley’s record could hardly be more misleading.  

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Silver linings of a Branstad candidacy

Terry Branstad is kicking off his “official” candidacy for governor today, launching a tour around the state. His campaign announced fairly strong fundraising numbers last week and just leaked an internal Republican primary poll showing Branstad leading Bob Vander Plaats by 63 percent to 18 percent.

It’s conceivable that Vander Plaats’ campaign could take off in the coming months. Right-winger Marco Rubio is now considered likely to defeat Florida Governor Charlie Crist in that state’s U.S. Senate primary, despite commanding leads Crist had in polls a few months ago. However, I assume Branstad will lock up the Republican nomination with little trouble.

Branstad will undoubtedly be a tough general-election opponent for Governor Chet Culver. The biggest hurdles for a challenger are usually name recognition, fundraising, and getting voters to imagine the challenger doing the job he’s seeking. Branstad is well-known, has done the job before, and has wealthy donors behind him. Frankly, I’d rather not have him in this race.

But my mother taught me not to focus too much on the negative. After the jump I offer some silver linings of a Branstad candidacy.  

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Iowa GOP hires new executive director

After becoming chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa in January, Matt Strawn “hired one of Iowa’s most seasoned GOP organizers,” Jeff Boeyink, as executive director. Boeyink didn’t last long in the position, though, because Terry Branstad lured him away to run his upcoming gubernatorial campaign.

On Saturday the Republican State Central Committee hired Boeyink’s replacement. Jim Anderson worked in Iowa last year, running the Republican National Committee’s “Victory” program. Most recently Anderson was deputy political director at the RNC. Earlier this year he was a media contact person for the American Issues Project. Ed Failor, Jr., head of Iowans for Tax Relief, is a board member of the American Issues Project, a political advocacy group that ran controversial ads against Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.

I can’t say I was too impressed by the Republican turnout operation in Iowa last year. It remains to be seen whether Anderson has the skills to continue the organizational work started by Boeyink at the Iowa GOP.

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