Nate Boulton now subject of Iowa Senate ethics complaint

The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee has received a formal complaint from Sharon Wegner regarding alleged sexual misconduct by Nate Boulton before he was elected to the legislature, Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register on November 19. It's unclear whether the complaint will lead to a broader investigation of Boulton, who has ignored calls from some leaders of his caucus to resign.

Wegner was a named source for Pfannenstiel's scoop in May, which prompted Boulton to end his campaign for governor. She filed a document with the Iowa Senate on November 17, according to Pfannenstiel's latest story on the controversy.

Wegner's signed and sworn complaint describes the night of Nov. 20, 2015, in which she and friends were drinking at several bars in the East Village. At the time, Boulton was running for his Senate seat but had not yet been elected.

"While standing in the group, I felt Sen. Boulton place his hand on my butt. It was not an accidental graze. It was not a mistake or miscommunication," the complaint says. "He placed his hand on my butt and kept it there until I moved. Immediately after he touched me, I moved away from him and relocated myself to the opposite side of the circle from where Sen. Boulton was standing. This was not enough to get Sen. Boulton to leave me alone.

"Throughout the rest of the evening at Wooly's, Sen. Boulton would find a way to stand next to me, and every time he was next to me he placed his hand on my butt. This happened at least five more times at Wooly's."

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver told Rod Boshart of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “There’s nothing filed and no plans right now" to investigate Boulton through the Senate Ethics Committee. Presumably the committee will accept Wegner's complaint, but it's not clear whether that would lead to an expansive probe. Four years ago, the Iowa Senate retained attorney Mark Weinhardt to independently investigate possible ethics violations by State Senator Kent Sorenson. Weinhardt's report ended Sorenson's political career.

So far, no public allegations against Boulton concern behavior after he was sworn in as a senator in January 2017. He has neither confirmed nor denied accounts by Wegner and other accusers. In a written statement this July, Boulton said he remembered the situations differently, possibly because he was intoxicated. "Excessive drinking has no doubt led me to misread appropriate social boundaries and make choices that I would never tolerate while sober. In brutal honesty: binge drinking was a problem in my past."

Minority Leader Janet Petersen and two assistant Senate Democratic leaders (Pam Jochum and Joe Bolkcom) called on Boulton to resign from the legislature in May. Iowa Senate Democratic staffer Ron Parker provided this comment on behalf of Petersen on November 20.

“When I called on Senator Boulton to resign six months ago, I did it because, like many Iowans, I believe that sexual harassment and misconduct should not be tolerated by anyone, anywhere. I also stated that I would support a full, independent investigation into allegations against Senator Boulton.

“This complaint is now in the hands of the Senate Ethics Committee, which is charged with taking appropriate action with alleged violations of the ethics code.”

Parker said Petersen "is not commenting on committee assignments for the 2019 at this time." As caucus leader, she could decline to assign Boulton to Senate committees, limiting the work he can do in the legislature for the next two years. Not all Democratic colleagues would support that move, though. Senator Bill Dotzler told Boshart shortly after the election,

“He’s still a senator and I feel that it’s up to the people of his district to determine whether he should be there or not,” Dotzler said in an interview. “He’s got a lot of talent. I think he’s addressed some of his personal problems. I think he’s done some real soul-searching so I think it’s kind of up to him. It’s up to him and the people of his district.”

It would be more appropriate for Boulton to resign. He could compete in the special election to fill the remainder of his term and let the voters of Senate district 16 make an informed choice.

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