Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced yesterday that he is asking the State Executive Council to appoint a special prosecutor to look into allegations that three backers of a new casino in Fort Dodge made illegal contributions to Governor Chet Culver’s re-election campaign. Miller is recommending Lawrence Scalise, who is both a former attorney general and a former chairman of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
“This was not an easy decision,” Miller said [in a prepared statement]. “My office has rarely withdrawn from a case in this manner. However, I believe the need for public confidence in the criminal justice process outweighs any other consideration.”
Miller did the right thing. A longtime aide in the Attorney General’s Office, Donn Stanley, has just taken over as campaign manager for Governor Culver. Although no one from the Culver campaign appears to be a target in the criminal investigation, there is clear potential for a conflict of interest. Republicans would have screamed about a cover-up if an investigator from Miller’s office found no wrongdoing by the governor’s campaign. Brenna Findley, the Republican candidate for attorney general, has been calling on Miller to step back from the investigation.
The three Fort Dodge residents whose donations have been questioned say their contributions to Culver’s campaign came from personal funds, and a spokeswoman for the company that would manage a new casino in Fort Dodge has denied that the company instructed its local consultants to give to Culver’s campaign.
On Tuesday the Racing and Gaming Commission held a lengthy hearing about four applications for new Iowa casinos. Culver has publicly supported new casinos for a long time and sent commissioners a letter in March urging them to approve all four applications. A decision is expected on May 13. My hunch is that only the casino proposed for Lyon County in far northwest Iowa will be approved, because it is unlikely to draw business away from any of Iowa’s existing casinos. The nearest population center is Sioux Falls, South Dakota.