Foreign lobbying will be off-limits for Iowa officials, employees

Continuing a series on Iowa legislative happenings that attracted little notice while the House and Senate were in session.

State officials will be barred from “any outside employment or activity that requires the person to register under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act,” under a new law that takes effect on July 1. In addition, applicants for state jobs or nominees for any position that requires Iowa Senate confirmation will have to disclose whether they have ever registered as foreign agents.

Brian McGlinchey had reported in March 2017 that Kim Schmett and Connie Schmett were among 70 Americans hired to lobby for changes to a federal law on behalf of Saudi Arabia. He followed up last July with details on the $101,500 that Qorvis-MSLGroup paid Schmett & Associates for unspecified “communications services.” Last September, McGlinchey’s 28Pages website interviewed a veteran who said Connie Schmett recruited him to lobby members of Congress, without disclosing that Saudi Arabia was bankrolling the trip to Washington.

None of those facts were widely known in Iowa until the first Associated Press story on the Schmetts’ foreign lobbying appeared in early November. Although several other Iowans working for the influential Des Moines-based firm LS2Group were part of the same Saudi-funded campaign, only the Schmetts held positions in state government. Kim Schmett has a full-time, paid job as chair of the Employment Appeal Board. Connie Schmett serves on the Health Facilities Council and Cultural Trust Board of Trustees, both part-time and unpaid roles.

Current Iowa law does not prohibit state officials from working on behalf of foreign governments. Days after the Associated Press drew attention to the matter, Governor Kim Reynolds called for lawmakers to “address a loophole” by banning foreign lobbying by such officials.

The Iowa Senate State Government Committee introduced Senate File 2323 in February. The final section stipulates, “Officials and state employees shall not engage in any outside employment or activity that requires the person to register under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. §611 et seq., as amended.” In addition, the bill requires:

• those nominated for any position subject to Senate confirmation to provide “a notarized statement” on whether the person has filed a Foreign Agents Registration Act statement;

• anyone previously confirmed to any state board, committee, commission, or council to disclose to the appointing authority whether the person has registered as a foreign agent;

• any applicant for a state job that is a political hire (as opposed to a merit-based position), as well as any applicant for an executive branch position, to disclose in writing whether the person has registered as a foreign agent;

• current state employees to disclose whether they have registered as foreign agents since being hired.

The bill also defines “willfully” violating the new disclosure rules as a serious misdemeanor.

State lawmakers approved Senate File 2323 by 50 votes to 0 in the Senate in February and by 96 votes to 0 in the House a few weeks later. Reynolds signed the bill in early April. Like most legislation, it will go into effect at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

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