Iowa House Ethics Committee dismisses complaint against Linda Upmeyer

The Iowa House Ethics Committee unanimously dismissed an ethics complaint against Republican House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer today.

Jason Clayworth reports for the Des Moines Register that Iowa City resident Nick Harper filed the complaint, citing Upmeyer’s position as a board member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Harper is a student at the University of Iowa College of Law and former legal fellow at Common Cause.

ALEC’s website lists Upmeyer as treasurer of the organization as well as its Iowa representative.

The stated mission of ALEC is to “advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.” The Center for Media and Democracy launched the ALEC Exposed website to publicize some 800 “model” bills and resolutions that largely benefit ALEC’s corporate members. Lawmakers like Upmeyer, who are sympathetic to ALEC’s agenda, have introduced these bills and resolutions in many states.

The House Ethics Committee did not release Harper’s ethics complaint against Upmeyer. Judging from Upmeyer’s response, it appears that Harper accused the House Majority leader of violating Iowa Code section 68B.5A. Here’s an excerpt from that part of the code (pdf):

A person who serves as a statewide elected official, the executive or administrative head of an agency of state government, the deputy executive or administrative head of an agency of state government, or a member of the general assembly shall not act as a lobbyist during the time in which the person serves or is employed by the state unless the person is designated, by the agency in which the person serves or is employed, to represent the official position of the agency.

Upmeyer responded,

While I dispute the assertion that ALEC is a “lobbyist client” as defined in Chapter 68B, the Committee need not decide the accuracy of this claim. Iowa Code section 68B.2(13)”b”(2) states that a “lobbyist does not mean”: “All federal, state, and local elected officials, while performing the duties and responsibilities of office.”

I am clearly a state elected official. Any discussions I have had concerning legislation with other members of the General Assembly or persons in the executive branch has been done while “performing the duties and responsibilities of office” as a state elected official.

Therefore, by definition while I am performing my duties and responsibilities as a member of the Iowa General Assembly I am not a “lobbyist.” Thus, Iowa Code section 68B.5A(1) does not apply and this complaint should be dismissed.

Indeed, Upmeyer accurately quoted Iowa Code section 68B.2(13)”b”(2) (pdf). It’s no surprise that the six members of the House Ethics Committee quickly dismissed the complaint. That tends to be their preferred course of action anyway, but in this case it may be the legally correct move.

Much like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s ethics complaint against Brent Rastetter (which the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board recently dismissed), Harper’s complaint is based on conflicts of interest that aren’t technically against the law. Upmeyer’s involvement with ALEC reflects poorly on her priorities and on our political system, in my opinion. That said, Iowa ethics rules do not prohibit using your elected office to advance corporate interests over the public interest.

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