AG race: Parties trade allegations over campaign funding

Television commercials on the Iowa attorney general race remain in heavy rotation statewide, and over the weekend both parties raised questions about how that advertising was funded. Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn demanded an investigation yesterday into loans received by Attorney General Tom Miller's campaign. The Iowa Democratic Party highlighted heavy spending in support of Republican Brenna Findley by outside groups, some of which don't disclose their donors.

Follow me after the jump for more details.

Most Iowa candidates filed new disclosure reports on October 29. Miller's campaign reported two large loans: $75,000 from Jeff Thompson and $20,000 from Tam Ormiston. Both Thompson and Ormiston work for the Iowa Attorney General's Office, and Strawn suggested they might have been coerced into lending the money:

"I think it's very important that Iowans understand exactly what happened and how unusual it is," said Strawn. "Why in any job, asking for that kind of loan from people that you supervise raises very troubling questions, especially when those people's salaries are paid for by the taxpayers."

"There's nothing to it," Miller said. "These are two people that work for me. They are also friends, trusted friends, that are heavily involved in the campaign. They lent us the money so we could buy TV ads based on the money we would collect in the last week of the campaign. We've collected that money and we're going to pay them back next year."

Iowa law allows such loans, and I can't blame professionals in the AG's office for wanting to help stop Findley. But for the sake of appearances, it would have been better for Miller's campaign to borrow from different "trusted friends." On the other hand, a loan from an outside attorney or business owner could have raised questions about a conflict of interest if that lender had future dealings with the AG's office.

Findley's disclosure included another $250,000 from "Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club," which had previously donated $547,000 to her campaign.

Responding to Strawn's comments yesterday, the Iowa Democratic Party emphasized that the majority of Findley's campaign money can't be traced to individual donors. Excerpt from an October 30 IDP statement:

Brenna Findley is behind in the polls, and Tom Miller has outraised her in individual contributions.   In the waning days of the election, Findley desperately raises ridiculous, unsubstantiated charges about individual loans to Tom Miller's campaign.  Tom Miller's long-time, trusted friends and colleagues volunteered to make these short-term loans, solely for cash flow purposes.

The real issue is for Findley to explain why more than 75 percent of her campaign contributions came from secret and anonymous sources.  The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee dumped nearly $800,000 to her campaign, by laundering the cash through the "Eisenhower Club" of the Iowa Republican Party.  In addition, the American Future Fund and the Progress Project have purchased ads supporting the Findley candidacy at least in the amount of $609,000.  Iowans want to know who is suddenly funneling huge amounts of cash into her campaign and who's trying to buy the Office of the Attorney General.  Findley needs to explain why outside committees have contributed $1.4 million.

Campaign contributions indicate support for that campaign.  In the last reporting period, Findley reported raising $319,000 to Tom Miller's $213,000, and declared victory.  However, Findley raised only $69,000 and then collected $250,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee/"Eisenhower Club."  In terms of fundraising that relates to actual support, Miller outraised Findley by more than three to one.  This shows Iowans' huge support for Tom Miller, and that's why Findley makes these last-minute, desperate charges.

The Republican State Leadership Committee is a 527 political organization, and those are required to disclose their donors. However, from looking at the long list of individual and corporate donors to the RSLC, you can't determine exactly whose money went from there to the Iowa GOP's Eisenhower Fund and through to Findley's campaign.

The American Future Fund and Progress Project are registered as 501(c)4 non-profit organizations, which do not have to disclose their donors. Their hit pieces on Tom Miller look like campaign ads to me, but instead of urging viewers to vote for Findley, they say "Tell Tom Miller etc." Iowa lawmakers and Congress should close the loophole that allows 501(c)4s to walk and talk like political action committees without following disclosure rules that apply to PACs. Unfortunately, I don't see much chance of that happening.

The best news I've heard about the attorney general race was in the Sunday Des Moines Register. The latest Iowa poll by Selzer and Co found Miller leading Findley 45-34.

Findley, a 34-year-old Dexter lawyer and tea party favorite, has spent more on advertising than Miller, who was first elected in 1978. However, Miller leads Findley among independent voters by 20 percentage points and nets a larger share of support from Democrats than Findley receives from Republicans.

The same poll found Iowa likely voters to be "conservative-leaning," with Terry Branstad and Chuck Grassley well ahead of their Democratic opponents. The poll was in the field from October 26-29, so respondents would have been exposed to the heavy advertising for Findley and against Miller.

Any thoughts on the attorney general race or campaign finance rules are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: At an October 31 campaign stop, Branstad said he didn't want to have to deal with Tom Miller again because "He wouldn't defend my item vetoes."

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