Weekend open thread: Money in politics edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. To get a conversation started, I posted a bunch of links about campaign finance after the jump, focusing on news related to Iowa’s 2014 contests for U.S. senator and governor.

At the end I included an old but “new to me” story about Ron Paul’s habit of double-billing travel expenses. What will his admirers in the Liberty movement say?

Since Senator Tom Harkin announced last weekend that he will retire in 2014, Iowa politics watchers have been wondering what will happen to the money in his re-election campaign account. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Iowa Democratic Party will both want the lion’s share of the funds, but Harkin isn’t required to give them money to them. As this weekend’s guest on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program, here’s how Harkin answered O.Kay Henderson’s question.

Henderson: One of the questions I’ve been getting all week from people who have been following this story is, what is he going to do with the $3 million he has in his campaign war chest?

Harkin: And I have to be honest with you, Kay, I don’t know.  I have asked my campaign people to find out what — I don’t even know what I can do with it.  I’m sure there are certain ethics rules and certain guidance things like that but sitting here I just don’t know.

Henderson: What is your inclination?

Harkin: Well, I don’t know until I find out what the parameters are.

Obradovich: If you find out that it is legal for you to give it to the Harkin Institute is that something that you would consider?

Harkin: Sure, if that is legal and ethical and stuff.  I don’t know the answer to that either.

Read the whole transcript or watch the video here for more discussion of the Harkin Institute at Iowa State University. The upshot is that Harkin hasn’t ruled out donating his papers to Drake University if a dispute over research parameters at ISU isn’t resolved to his satisfaction. He emphasized that “full, unfettered academic freedom” is a non-negotiable condition for any university receiving his papers.

Iowa Democrats will go ballistic if Harkin ends up giving most of his campaign account to an academic institution. It will be hard enough to fund the coordinated GOTV campaign in a midterm election year with first-time statewide candidates running for governor and senator.

Harkin answered more questions about his campaign money during a press conference after the “Iowa Press” taping. Jeff Patch of The Iowa Republican blog asked Harkin whether he’d been directly fundraising for the academic institute.

“The answer to that is no…Jeff, there’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve read that you’ve written, that others have written that, you know, there’s a little snippet of truth and then you build things around it that just aren’t so…I’ve always appreciated muckrakers, O.K.?” Harkin said, laughing. “They have a role to play. I don’t mind that, but I’m not going to take all my time here getting into who did this and what did this and all that kind of stuff.”

Harkin said today that he will not raise any more money for his campaign fund, but will continue to raise money for the “TOM-PAC – a political action committee. TOM stands for “To Organize a Majority.”. Later this month Harkin is scheduled to hold a fundraiser featuring Lady Gaga.

“One of my deepest, darkest secrets: I am a Lady Gaga fan,” Harkin said, laughing. “Actually, she is pretty good.”

Lady Gaga is scheduled to hold a concert in Washington, D.C. on February 25. According to politicalpartytime.org, tickets to the Harkin fundraiser are $1500 each.

Can’t say I share the senator’s appreciation for Lady Gaga’s artistic work. I’m not a big consumer of new pop music, but I prefer Pink or Katy Perry.

Cameron Joseph reported for The Hill this week that three possible candidates for U.S. Senate in Iowa “are low on cash after tough 2012 House races.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has just $119,000 left in the bank as of the year’s end, according to recently filed financial reports. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) is down to $118,000, while Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) has just $51,000 left in his campaign coffers. […]

Latham raised and spent $3.8 million in the last cycle, King spent $3.7 million and Braley brought in $2.7 million. But their low totals show the congressmen will have to hit the fundraising circuit hard if they want to move to the upper chamber.

I remember being surprised to see so much money in Latham’s campaign account as of September 30. Turns out he did spend almost all of it to fend off Representative Leonard Boswell in IA-03.

I’ll post another news roundup about the upcoming U.S. Senate race in another thread. Spoiler alert: I wouldn’t read too much into this quickie poll from January 29. Latham and King aren’t going to run against each other in a primary. And don’t be fooled by relatively low statewide name recognition at this stage: King would have very little chance to beat Braley in a general election.

Moving to the governor’s race, any Democrat considering a run against Terry Branstad had better be prepared to be outspent by a mile. Last month Branstad reported raising $1,116,705.90 during 2011, on top of the $725,677.04 he had in his campaign account already. His re-election campaign spent $380,453.28 last year, leaving $1,461,929.66 cash on hand according to the latest report (pdf). The governor’s huge money lead will make it that much more difficult to develop a strong case against re-electing him. During the 2010 campaign, Branstad flagrantly lied in his stump speech and many of his television commercials.

You can find all the latest campaign finance reports for Iowa candidates for the state legislature or a statewide office on this page of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board website. You can search for past reports by filing date here.

Craig Robinson was the first to comment on a surprising development from 2011:  Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds set up her own campaign account.

There is nothing in Iowa law that prevents Reynolds from having her own campaign account, but past Iowa Lieutenant Governors never raised their own funds before, making this uncharted territory.  Reynolds filed an “Other Political Subdivision Candidate” report with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.  The report showed that Reynolds raised $82,000.00, of which $60,000 was contributed toward the election efforts in the Iowa Senate and Iowa House.

The Branstad Administration likes to mention Reynolds as Governor Branstad’s heir apparent, but this is the first major step in making that a real possibility.  Having her own campaign account will allow Reynolds to build relationships with donors herself, but more importantly, it allows her to make contributions to local candidates and organizations should she wish to do so.  If Branstad really wants to prepare Reynolds to take over some day, he must allow her to venture out on her own politically.  The creation of her own campaign account allows that to happen.

The January 2013 disclosure report for Reynolds’ account is here (pdf). Most of the $82,000 she raised came in one $75,000 check from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee. Five “usual suspect” Iowa Republican donors kicked in some cash, and Reynolds received checks from one donor from Wisconsin and another from Texas. As Robinson noted, Reynolds passed most of her money ($60,000 total) along to the “Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club” for use during the 2014 campaigns.

Final note: I missed this story when it came out last September, but Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington determined,

Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul has been named one of the most corrupt members of Congress in a new report from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The report says Paul “double-billed” his travel expenses a number of times over the last decade, meaning he may have been reimbursed for the same flights both under his official allowance as congressman, and by either non-profit groups under his control or his campaign committee.

None of the Iowans in Congress made CREW’s 2012 list of most corrupt members of Congress (pdf).

  • CREW

    CREW will be getting nasty e-mails and letters for the next decade because of their findings on Ron Paul.  What are CREW’s ties to the Bilderberg Group?  Where do they stand on the issue of selling raw milk?  Is CREW funded by the Rothschild (sp?) family?  (:  

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