Conlin assembling Senate campaign

The Quad-City Times reports today that Roxanne Conlin is “in the midst of putting together a [U.S. Senate] campaign” and will file papers with the Federal Election Commission next week. She seems to have hired at least one campaign staffer already; the newspaper quotes Mark Daley as Conlin’s spokesman.

I expect Conlin to raise large sums of money quickly once she has formed a campaign committee, but she has a ways to go to become competitive with Senator Chuck Grassley. He had $4.4 million cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, and there will be plenty more where that came from. During this election cycle alone, Grassley has raised more than $1.6 million in individual contributions and $1.9 million from political action committees. Health care and insurance interests have generously supported him:

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) has raised $154,350 in campaign donations in the 3rd quarter of 2009 from health care interests, including $43,590 from health insurance interests, according to research conducted by the campaign finance watchdog Public Campaign Action Fund. Grassley serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which voted out a health care reform bill earlier this year.

Over his career, Grassley has raised at least $3.3 million from the health care and insurance industries during his time in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Sen. Grassley was showered with health industry contributions while the Finance Committee was meeting to discuss health care legislation,” said David Donnelly, national programs director for Public Campaign Action Fund. “Insurance PACs and executives wanted Grassley to oppose health care reform, and that’s what they got.”

Last week Cityview’s Civic Skinny expressed doubts that Conlin can raise $10 million without taking any money from lobbyists or PACs. $10 million might be a tall order, but Conlin has plenty of major donor contacts around the country, not to mention potential support from small donors who got fed up with Grassley this summer. Conlin probably won’t be able to match Grassley dollar for dollar, but she certainly will raise enough to stage a credible statewide campaign.

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Draft Branstad PAC "ignores Iowa election law"

When Republican power-brokers formed the Draft Branstad PAC last month, I assumed that the entity was a political action committee, as implied by the name “PAC.” However, the Draft Branstad PAC registered with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board as a 527 committee. The distinction is important, because unlike PACs, 527 groups do not have to disclose their donors and are not allowed to advocate for candidates.

Today the Iowa Democratic Party caught the folks in charge of the Draft Branstad effort running their 527 group like a PAC:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 9, 2009

DRAFT BRANSTAD GROUP IGNORES IOWA ELECTION LAW

DES MOINES, IA -The political action group called Draft Branstad, formed to promote Terry Branstad’s candidacy for Governor before he became a declared candidate, is ignoring Iowa ethics law and engaging in express advocacy for Branstad, who became a candidate on Wednesday, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan said Friday.

• FACT: Last night Draft Branstad hosted an event at Graze restaurant in West Des Moines.  The event included Branstad campaign paraphernalia and free drinks.  It was paid for by Draft Branstad and apparently the materials came from the same group.

• FACT: Draft Branstad continues to advertise on conservative websites.  Screen captures made Friday showed activity on multiple sites.

“This Draft Branstad group has spent funds directly benefiting the Branstad campaign,” Kiernan said Friday.  “That’s a blatant violation of Iowa campaign ethics law.”  Iowa election law prohibits 527 groups from engaging in express advocacy on behalf of any candidate or candidate’s committee.  

“Branstad should either embrace the spending of this group, since it’s a group designed by him to promote his candidacy, or publicly disavow it,” Kiernan said Friday.

Iowans know better.  They aren’t confused by the tactics being used to avoid both the letter and the spirit of campaign ethics law.  They know Branstad was behind the “movement” to draft him – and he knows why.  This campaign-that’s-not-a-campaign is a mockery of our system of democratic government and a slap in the face to Iowa’s bipartisan tradition of clean elections.

Now, we call upon Terry Branstad to:

1 Call upon the Draft Branstad group to cease and desist public statements and representations in his favor;

2 Disavow any expenditures already made by the Draft Branstad group after Tuesday, Oct. 6;

3 Call for the immediate disbanding of the Draft Branstad group based on Branstad’s decision to become a candidate on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

The leaders of the Draft Branstad PAC should know better than to make this kind of mistake, and Iowans should know better than to elect Terry Branstad again.

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Iowa casinos, golf courses not fancy enough for Latham?

Representative Tom Latham has enjoyed some nice weekends on the dime of his For America’s Republican Majority PAC, I learned from a must-read piece by Jason Hancock at Iowa Independent.

A golf outing in West Virginia and a weekend getaway to Atlantic City, N.J., are just two of the trips taken this year by U.S. Rep. Tom Latham of Ames that have garnered the attention of campaign finance watchdogs.

That’s because the trips were paid for by Latham’s political action committee and touted as fundraising events, a practice that is legal but that government reform advocates contend turns the PAC into little more than a slush fund designed to skirt campaign finance law.

Go read Hancock’s piece for details on Latham’s fundraising trips to the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City and various high-end golf resorts in West Virginia and California. Latham’s PAC “raised $205,447 during the 2008 election cycle, with almost all of it coming from lobbyists, PACs and corporate leaders.”

A new report by ProPublica explains how leadership PACs function:

Legally, lawmakers are free to spend the leadership PAC money pretty much as they wish.

Lobbyists and lawmakers can — and do — use it to travel together to play golf at Pebble Beach, ride snowmobiles in Montana’s Big Sky Country and go deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys. The lobbyists don’t pay the costs directly. They contribute to the leadership PAC, which then pays the lawmaker’s resort and travel bills.

Leadership PACs have grown steadily since they began cropping up in the 1970s. What separates them from campaign committees is that lawmakers are supposed to pass along the bulk of the money to other members of their party for their campaigns. That way, lawmakers with leadership PACs can earn their beneficiaries’ support when it comes time to divvy up committee chairmanships and other party leadership posts.

This system helps party leaders spread money to candidates with less money or tighter races. On the other hand, it also fuels the Washington money chase, allocates power in Congress based on fundraising prowess, and encourages lawmakers and lobbyists to mingle socially and recreationally as political money changes hands.

In this tough economy, couldn’t Latham encourage his corporate lobbyist buddies to golf, gamble and spread political money around in Iowa?  

In case you’re wondering whether everyone in Congress does what Latham’s been doing with his PAC, ProPublica’s report has lots more information on hundreds of leadership PACs. But Hancock notes that Iowa’s other members of Congress have used their leadership PAC money for campaign contributions and various expenses, as opposed to trips to high-end casinos and golf resorts.

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Grassley's ties to health and insurance PACs are no joke

Jon Stewart had a go at Senator Chuck Grassley on Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Show. The “debt and deficit dragon” segment is worth watching if you missed it. I can’t embed the video here, but you can watch it at TheDailyShow.com or at Radio Iowa.

While I enjoy laughing at Grassley as much as the next person, Paul Blumenthal’s reporting on Grassley for the Sunlight Foundation blog this week is more important than mocking Grassley’s bizarre visual aids and mixed metaphors.

During the second quarter of 2009 alone, Grassley “pulled in $165,100 from health and insurance PACs.” Blumenthal posts the details here. It appears that a large chunk of that money came from two fundraisers that interest groups opposing health care reform held for Grassley in late June.

Corporations who profit from our current inefficient and immoral health care system have a lot riding on Grassley’s efforts to derail real reform with bogus bipartisan rhetoric.

By the way, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus continues to raise lots of money from foes of health care reform as well. No wonder he gutted the public health insurance option in his committee’s bill.

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Department of lousy optics

When Governor Chet Culver scheduled a $5,000 a head fundraiser in Des Moines, he probably didn’t expect the event to fall on the same day he announced about $100 million in “painful” budget cuts.

Trust me, Bleeding Heartland’s resident troll won’t be the only one to use this convergence to push Republican talking points about Democrats no longer being the party of working people.

Last week Iowa legislative leaders appeared at a forum organized by Iowa Politics, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy characterized the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections bill as “flat-out bad”:

It would cause taxpayer money to rain down in districts where candidates typically spend far less on campaigns, and would cause corporations to control the parties, he said. Meaningful reform should come from federal lawmakers clamping down on political committees such as 501(c)4 groups that can raise unlimited money and use it to influence campaigns, he said.

Sure, because it doesn’t look “flat-out bad” for Democrats to schedule high-priced fundraisers while most families are tightening their belts.

Of course, the real problem with our current system of funding politicians isn’t the lousy optics, it’s how narrow interests are able to push through bad bills or block legislation that is in the public interest and has broad bipartisan support.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement gave a few other reasons why McCarthy is “flat-out wrong”:

McCarthy also claimed that under VOICE, corporations would “control the parties” through their contributions. Currently, corporate contributions to candidates are prohibited in Iowa, and would remain banned under VOICE. However, Iowa is one of only 13 states that have no limit on what any one individual can contribute to a candidate for public office.

In fact, McCarthy took a total of $90,000 in contributions from five individuals from out of state in 2008, and all the reports aren’t even in yet. And, $351,815 of his $652,205 came directly from Political Action Committees (PACs) representing special interests. States that have systems for publicly financed elections similar to VOICE, like Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut, have not seen an influx in 527 or PAC activity trying to influence elections. Rather, more candidates are running for office, including women and minorities. And, although these kinds of groups are already here in Iowa, CCI and other organizations last year worked for and passed legislation to force 527s to report their in-state activities. This has allowed the public to see who is contributing to organizations that try to influence our public elections.

McCarthy also claimed that VOICE would cause candidates to become lazy, “Which is absurd,” said CCI member Alice Bryan of Des Moines. “VOICE candidates will actually have to work harder, going door to door meeting constituents, rather than dialing for dollars and relying on slick mailers and TV ads. A VOICE candidate who agrees to limit their spending would truly represent their constituents, not the special interests that fund campaigns.”

Public Campaign has created an online petition you can sign if you want to tell McCarthy that “VOICE would make elections in Iowa about voters and not campaign donors.”

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has scheduled a Rally and Lobby Day for January 27, 2009,

to kick off the legislative session and push for VOICE, local control of factory farms, keeping families in their homes and protecting the rights of all workers.

If you care about this issue, mark your calendar.

UPDATE: Ed Fallon published an op-ed piece in Friday’s Des Moines Register called Illinois seat not only thing that’s for sale:

Blagojevich is a menace and needs to go to the gated community where other Illinois governors before him have gone. But America’s campaign-finance system is a far greater menace to democracy. If we can muster shock and disgust for Blagojevich, we should be utterly appalled at the pervasive role of money in politics.

Face it. What we call “elections” have become auctions. The auctioning of U.S. Senate seats occurs every six years – every two years for congressional and state legislative seats. Big donors, corporations and special interests “bid” on the candidate of their choice. In close races, the smart money bids on both candidates, and the one backed by the highest bidders usually wins.

We don’t want to believe our elected officials can be bought. But as someone who served for 14 years in the Iowa House, I say with confidence that what big money wants, big money usually gets. Rank-and-file lawmakers may be well-intentioned but often are strong-armed by legislative leaders beholden to corporate donors and special interests. As a result, the most pressing challenges of our time – climate change, budgetary reform, health care, farm policy, to name a few – see practically no progress year after year.

So, while I hope the good people of Illinois fire Blagojevich and fire him soon, I have a more pressing hope that Americans across the country get fired up for campaign-finance reform. In Iowa, Senator-elect Pam Jochum is leading the charge on VOICE (Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections). This bill would make it easier for rank-and-file lawmakers to stand up to party leaders, allow more citizens to run for office and give the public far greater access to the halls of power.

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Boswell campaign questions Fallon's ethics (part 4)

Welcome to the latest installment of my series about efforts by Leonard Boswell's campaign to make the third district primary about Ed Fallon's faults.

Boswell's staffers and supporters have criticized Fallon for the following four alleged ethical problems:

1. his work and fundraising for the Independence Movement for Iowa (I'M for Iowa)

2. the salary Fallon drew from unspent campaign funds following the 2006 gubernatorial primary

3. allegations that Fallon pondered running for governor as an independent after losing that primary

4. Fallon's stand against taking contributions from political action committees (PACs) while allowing PACs to encourage their individual members to donate to his campaign.

For my take on the I'M for Iowa allegations, see this diary and this follow-up piece.

I addressed the controversy over Fallon's salary from his gubernatorial campaign in this post.

This post looks at the evidence on whether Fallon considered running for governor as an independent.

Follow me after the jump for more on Fallon, Boswell and PACs.

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