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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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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