New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner had the scoop today for NJ.com: Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-announced economic advisers include Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and “Bruce Rastetter, a multimillionaire livestock and bio-fuel tycoon who insiders say is also a leading candidate to be Trump’s agriculture secretary.” They
will advise Trump on agribusiness and energy policy, according to a source within the Trump campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly about the move.
“There’s a clear nexus between [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, the Branstads and Rastetter,” explained one Iowa GOP insider familiar with all three men’s dealings with one another but who was fearful of alienating the Iowa governor by speaking out publicly.
Rastetter helped talk Branstad into running for governor again in 2009 and was his campaign’s top donor in 2010. He has exerted substantial influence since Branstad returned to office in 2011, speaking to the governor “at least once a week.” Rastetter tried to recruit Christie to run for president in 2011 and endorsed him in a highly-publicized event last September. Though Branstad did not endorse any presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, several people close to him were involved in Christie’s campaign.
Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes confirmed via e-mail that the governor “was asked to advise Mr. Trump in an unofficial role. He will be offering his advice on important issues to Iowa, none more important than renewable fuels.” Iowa Republicans have seized on a recent report by Reuters, suggesting that as president, Hillary Clinton might change federal policy on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate for biofuels blends into gasoline. The governor’s son Eric Branstad is running Trump’s general election campaign in Iowa, having coordinated an ethanol industry group‘s political efforts here before the caucuses.
Hammes declined to comment on Rastetter’s possible role in the Trump campaign or a prospective Trump cabinet. At this writing, Rastetter’s office has not responded to my inquiry. The man often described as an “ethanol baron” sought to enhance his reputation as an authority on agriculture policy last year, when he organized an Iowa Ag Summit, attended by nine presidential hopefuls and a who’s who of Iowa GOP elected officials. Though Rastetter would surely want to have a strong voice in any Republican administration, I have trouble seeing him in a cabinet secretary’s role, with many public events and press availabilities. The way Trump’s poll numbers are looking lately, we will likely never find out whether Rastetter was really the top contender to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
UPDATE: According to Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, Rastetter met privately with Trump not long before the nominee’s July 28 rally in Cedar Rapids. Excerpts from that story are after the jump, along with comments Hammes provided to Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller.
From Dorman’s July 31 column, “Nine minutes with Donald Trump.”
Trump was running behind. His staff said he had time only for a quick “gaggle,” with questions from a group of local reporters. No one-on-ones. Sorry.
So we were led behind a black curtain outside the Taft B meeting room near the Convention Complex ballroom, which was jammed with thousands of Trump backers. We waited for a pair of big wooden doors to open.
When they did, Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents and Republican big money guy, walked out with some other serious looking guys in suits. A private meeting, but about what? How about University of Northern Iowa President Donald Trump? Nah. […]
[The Gazette’s] Erin Jordan asked if Trump has business interests in Russia.
“No, I don’t. I don’t. I have no investments in Russia. Nothing whatsoever,” he said.
The question isn’t whether Trump has invested in Russian property–it’s whether any of Trump’s businesses are indebted to or otherwise entangled with Russian corporate entities.
From Vanessa Miller’s August 9 story, “Branstad refutes rumors he’ll be ‘key economic adviser’ to Trump campaign.”
“He’s agreed to advise the campaign on issues that are important to Iowa — namely renewable fuels and renewable energy,” Hammes said. “That’s the role that he has agreed to play in this. I think it’s been a little overblown in that article that he’s serving in some official capacity to the campaign.”
“That’s not the case,” Hammes said. “He’ll be serving in sort of an unofficial role in advising Trump, specifically on the importance of renewable fuels.”
Hammes added that Branstad has not advised Trump to pick Rastetter as agriculture secretary, nor has he heard Rastetter’s name come up.
“I wasn’t privy to those conversations, and I don’t believe those have taken place,” he said. “Now, if they did, they could have taken place between the Trump campaign and Rastetter, I don’t know. But we weren’t part of those.”
Incidentally, Miller did credit NJ.com for the scoop, which I hope is a sign of new attribution policies at the Gazette.