Hy-Vee PAC's latest Democratic donation raises questions

Bleeding Heartland was first to report in June that the Hy-Vee corporation’s political action committee gave $25,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa prior to a fundraiser headlined by President Donald Trump and held at the corporation’s West Des Moines corporate venue. It was the PAC’s largest single recorded contribution.

That story by Gwen Hope received significant public comment online and prompted a press release in which Hy-Vee PAC’s executive director Mary Beth Hart asserted that the donation was “an important opportunity for our CEO to directly provide information about pharmacy-related issues […] to the President and his staff while they were in town.” While the contribution could have been designed to seek political favors from high-ranking Republicans, it also covered most of the Iowa GOP’s rental cost to use Hy-Vee’s facility.

In light of that revelation, some local Democratic groups distanced themselves from the grocery store chain, while others asked the company for contributions to balance the corporation’s Republican-heavy donation history.

That pressure appeared to hit pay dirt in August, when Polk County Democrats leader Sean Bagniewski announced that Hy-Vee corporate leadership had agreed to donate $25,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party’s major fall fundraiser. To all appearances, balance was restored.

However, the Hy-Vee PAC’s November 2019 filing with the Federal Election Commission lists a single disbursement to the Iowa Democratic Party for $10,000, paid on October 9. That donation was declared on a reporting schedule for non-federal donations, which are unlimited under Iowa law. The gift does not appear on the Iowa Democratic Party’s latest FEC filing, indicating it will be declared to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board in January, along with other state-level donations.

Bleeding Heartland sought comment from the PAC: who approved this contribution? Why didn’t Hy-Vee give Democrats the same amount the Republican Party received, as the Polk County chair was led to believe would happen? (Bagniewski confirmed in November that he was told the company’s PAC would donate $25,000 to the state party.)

Hart responded via email on November 21, “The maximum sponsorship amount for the 2019 Liberty & Justice event was $10,000, which is what is reflected in public records.”

Yet several presidential campaigns gave $20,000, $30,000, or even $60,000 to the state party in October, records show. Hart didn’t budge when answering a follow-up question on November 23.

I believe the Iowa Democratic Party already provided you with the facts that we gave the maximum for the Chairman’s club which supports the dinner. As we stated before, we continue to have ongoing conversations with candidates running for office and political parties regarding support from our PAC.

Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson Mandy McClure told Bleeding Heartland,

[T]here isn’t a maximum contribution for the LJ [Liberty and Justice] Celebration. Individual tickets ranged from $25 to $2,000, and tables of ten were available ranging from $2,500 to $20,000. We appreciate that the Hy Vee PAC chose to join our highest annual club membership level, which came with two individual tickets to the LJ.

Hy-Vee’s donation last month far exceeded any previous single gift from the company’s PAC to Iowa Democratic organizations this decade. Moreover, financial disclosures show few if any corporate PACs have donated $10,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party lately. For instance, a few individuals gave $10,000 or more during the 2018 general election campaign, but most five-figure gifts last year came from Democratic campaign committees or labor organizations and were designated for use in competitive state House or Senate races.

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