Leaders of the Hy-Vee corporation told local Democrats on August 26 that the grocery store chain’s political action committee will donate $25,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party, according to Polk County Democrats chair Sean Bagniewski.
Bagniewski posted the following on Facebook:
Our Steak Fry committee met with Hy-Vee’s corporate leadership at their headquarters today and I’m pleased to report that they’ll be making a $25,000 donation to the Iowa Democratic Party for their fall dinner.
We applaud them on their commitment to the spirit of bipartisanship in this case. We hope to continue a conversation with them on Democratic goals and candidates into the future.
Bagniewski shared the same news at the Polk County Democratic Central Committee meeting on the evening of August 26. He did not clarify which Hy-Vee executives were involved in the discussions. UPDATE: Bagniewski later told Bleeding Heartland the meeting was with Hy-Vee’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer Sheila Laing. Mary Beth Hart, executive director of the Hy-Vee PAC, and the company’s vice president for communiations Tina Potthoff did not immediately respond to requests for comment by e-mail and phone.
The state party’s Fall Dinner on November 1 in Des Moines will feature most of the Democratic candidates for president. The company’s PAC gave $25,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa in June, shortly before a major fundraiser featuring President Donald Trump, Gwen Hope reported for Bleeding Heartland.
Last week, Bagniewski said Hy-Vee had turned down a request to sponsor the Polk County Steak Fry in September. Reached for comment, Hart said the PAC’s policy is “to give to individual political candidates and/or state parties, not county parties,” adding, “We continue to welcome requests from the state Democratic party and its candidates who support our legislative priorities.”
The GOP fundraiser was held at Hy-Vee’s Ron Pearson Center in West Des Moines. The Iowa Democratic Party has never booked that facility, state party chair Troy Price told Bleeding Heartland in June. However, Hy-Vee has regularly provided food or supplies for various Democratic events, such as State Central Committee meetings, the annual Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, and the Polk County Steak Fry as well as its predecessor, the Harkin Steak Fry.
As Gwen Hope showed, Hy-Vee’s PAC has given to campaign committees and organizations from both parties, but substantially more to Republicans, especially during the past decade. The PAC has typically given the Iowa Democratic Party between $1,000 and $5,000 per year, while the Iowa GOP has sometimes received donations in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.
The Hy-Vee PAC’s latest filing with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, covering the first part of 2019, showed $49,500 in expenditures, of which $30,000 went to the Iowa GOP (a $5,000 gift in January in addition to the Trump event donation). Republican candidates in Iowa received contributions totaling $10,000. The PAC has given Democrats $4,500 this year: $2,000 to Kansas Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers and $2,500 combined to three Iowa Democratic lawmakers. A national PAC representing specialty pharmacies received the remaining $5,000.
While it’s unlikely Hy-Vee will ever divide its political giving evenly between the major parties, a large donation to the Iowa Democratic Party would be a gesture toward customers who were angered by the PAC’s financial support for the Trump fundraiser. Many Bleeding Heartland readers have vowed to stop shopping at Hy-Vee and have asked about the political leanings of competitors. The other major grocery chain headquartered in Iowa, Fareway, exclusively supports Republicans with its PAC money.
Hy-Vee has been dealing with a larger public relations headache lately, as “unauthorized activity” on some payment processing systems apparently resulted in “5.3 million new accounts belonging to cardholders from 35 U.S. states” being shopped on a notorious marketplace for stolen data, the KrebsOnSecurity website reported on August 22.
UPDATE: As of August 28, no one representing the Hy-Vee corporation or Hy-Vee’s PAC had responded to Bleeding Heartland’s request for comment or confirmation.