Thursday’s Des Moines Register contains a lengthy report on Governor Chet Culver’s recent vacation stay at a Florida condominium owned by Bill Knapp, a leading donor to Democrats in Iowa.
Knapp has been a friend to the Culver family for decades and “was the biggest individual contributor to Culver’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006, donating $112,500.”
The article quotes Knapp as saying Culver pays $1,000 per week in advance when his family stays at the condo. It then quotes a real estate broker in Florida as estimating a comparable condo would rent for $2,700 per week.
Charlie Smithson, executive director of the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board, said he didn’t have enough information to say whether Knapp is a restricted donor or whether ethics rules were broken. “Ultimately, that’s the board’s decision to make,” Smithson said.
Smithson said no one has complained about the condo deal, but the board would have to look into it if someone did.
I doubt there will be any formal complaint regarding this issue, because the Register also reports that State Representative John Putney, a Republican and personal friend to Knapp, stayed at the condo during this year’s legislative session as well.
Unlike Culver, Putney did not pay up front for the use of the condo. Instead, he says that he treated members of the Knapp family to expensive dinners (costing about $600 per evening) in exchange for the use of the condo.
The Register quotes Putney as saying Knapp “has never asked me for one thing legislatively,” and quotes Knapp as saying he doesn’t ask Culver for anything or offer him gifts.
Although it’s natural to stay at the home of a close family friend, it would be prudent for elected officials or appointees to pay market rates for those vacation stays, so as to avoid any appearance of impropriety–especially when the owner of the vacation home is a large campaign donor.