Doug Gross used Des Moines Register to lobby for his law firm's client

Longtime Republican power-broker Doug Gross published two Des Moines Register guest columns within a three-month period criticizing a planned Polk County program to assess the risk of releasing defendants before trial. The BrownWinick partner did not disclose to the newspaper’s editors that his law firm’s lobbying team represents Lederman Bail Bonds, a company that would be adversely affected if fewer low-risk offenders are required to post a cash bond to get out of jail.

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Senate GOP's budget cuts could close more than 30 county courthouses

More than 30 county courthouses could close if the Iowa legislature enacts Senate Republicans’ plan to cut more than $4.8 million from the judicial branch for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio warned on January 25. Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider proposed some $52 million in mid-year budget cuts the same day; within hours, his committee approved the bill along party lines.

Earlier this month, Governor Kim Reynolds proposed about $27 million in spending cuts before the end of the fiscal year, of which about $1.6 million would come from the judicial branch. House Republicans have not yet released a plan for mid-year cuts. In January 2017, leaders from both chambers worked out a deal behind closed doors before publishing a bill. But House Speaker Linda Upmeyer “said Thursday the House was still working on its plan for spending reductions,” the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel reported.

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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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Kent Sorenson's prison sentence will stand

A panel of judges on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt did not abuse his discretion by sentencing former State Senator Kent Sorenson to 15 months in prison. Federal prosecutors had recommended probation after Sorenson admitted to taking money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul for president, citing his cooperation with investigations of former Paul campaign operatives. But Pratt concluded that “Defendant’s conduct, viewed through the lens of America’s traditional understanding of the profound evils of political corruption, requires a substantial sentence.” A term of probation would not “reflect the seriousness” of his offenses, nor would it “deter others from engaging in similar criminal conduct.”

Sorenson appealed the sentence on several grounds. The Appeals Court found Pratt was not required to consider the value of Sorenson’s campaign work as a mitigating factor, nor was he wrong to consider the senator’s public office when imposing a sentence. I enclose below today’s full decision from the Eighth Circuit panel. You can read the District Court’s lengthy sentencing memorandum here.

Sorenson began serving time in March at a federal prison in Illinois. According to a September blog post by Shawnee Sorenson, her husband will transfer to a halfway house in January to finish his sentence. She had previously accused Judge Pratt of imposing a harsh punishment as “retribution for the work Kent did to unseat three unlawful Supreme Court Justices and unseat a current Supreme Court Justices [sic] wife.” Sorenson campaigned against retaining three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010, the same year he defeated Democratic State Senator Staci Appel. Her husband, Brent Appel, continues to serve on the high court.

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