Auditor, AG warn Iowans about improper election conduct

State Auditor Rob Sand and Attorney General Tom Miller reminded Iowans on September 30 about state laws prohibiting the use of public property to promote candidates and attempts to intimidate or threaten voters.

Sand’s advisory was a response to an incident in the western Iowa town of Ute (Monona County). Miller’s comments did not refer to any specific event but appeared relevant to comments President Donald Trump made during the September 29 televised debate.

A member of the Siouxland Indivisible Facebook group posted this picture of a post by someone (purportedly a city employee) celebrating the display of Trump campaign flags from Ute’s public display mounts.

The city of Ute distanced itself from the action the following morning, saying in a news release, “This was not sanctioned by the City and the flags have been removed. The City of Ute does not endorse any one candidate for any office and does not display signage for any candidates or parties.”

The advisory from the State Auditor’s office noted that Iowa Code section 68A.505 and a related administrative rule prohibit anyone from “placing campaign materials on public property including the placement of campaign signs in the public right-of-way.”

Unlike dictatorships where those holding power routinely use state resources to punish, oppress, and defeat their political opponents, in the United States of America and in the State of Iowa, taxpayer property is generally prohibited from being used for political purposes. […]

But, for a public employee whose salary is paid by Iowans of all political persuasions to speak approvingly, whether on social media or elsewhere, of the misuse of public property to promote a candidate is particularly unacceptable. It is a violation of the civic trust all public employees hold, most of them dearly, to serve all Iowans equally.

Sand credited the city for removing the flags and confirming they endorse no candidate or party, adding that the State Auditor’s office “would encourage the reporting of any suspected misuse by a public employee supporting any political party to our office.”

Normally, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is charged with enforcing provisions in Iowa Code chapter 68A. Andrew Turner, communications director for the State Auditor’s office, explained in response to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry,

Generally, audits of public entities include addressing legal compliance with code sections, and our Office has an obligation to advise local entities. Specifically, these statutes specifically address the use of taxpayer property, which is particularly within our mandate as the Taxpayer’s Watchdog.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Miller tweeted this heads up to Iowans.

Although Miller did not refer to anyone in particular, his comment seemed to be inspired by how Trump answered one question near the end of the debate.

Moderator Chris Wallace had asked both candidates, “Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, [and] not to engage in any civil unrest?” Watch:

My transcript:

I’m telling my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully. Because that’s what has to happen. I’m urging them to do it.

As you know, today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia they went to watch. They are called poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things.

And I am urging my people–I hope it is going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.

Miller also tweeted a link to the Iowa Code section on “who is allowed in a polling place.” I’ve enclosed the full text below.

During my lifetime, Iowa has mostly been spared from widespread attempts to intimidate voters on election day. However, Republicans have occasionally stationed poll-watchers in precincts where many people of color live, so it’s important to be vigilant about the potential for Trump fans to disrupt the voting process on November 3.
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Full text of September 30 news release from State Auditor’s office:

Advisory Regarding use of Public Property for Campaign Purposes

Last night, an employee of the City of Ute posted on Facebook a photograph of a candidate’s flags flying on multiple city properties, along with text that supported the flying of the flags and the candidate.

Unlike dictatorships where those holding power routinely use state resources to punish, oppress, and defeat their political opponents, in the United States of America and in the State of Iowa, taxpayer property is generally prohibited from being used for political purposes.

Specifically, Iowa Code section 68A.505 and administrative Rule 351-5.4(2)(e) prohibits “placing campaign materials on public property including the placement of campaign signs in the public right-of-way.” Campaign signs in the right-of-way is a problem every year across Iowa. Every Iowan has a responsibility to know this rule and follow it.

But, for a public employee whose salary is paid by Iowans of all political persuasions to speak approvingly, whether on social media or elsewhere, of the misuse of public property to promote a candidate is particularly unacceptable. It is a violation of the civic trust all public employees hold, most of them dearly, to serve all Iowans equally.

To the credit of the City of Ute, they immediately removed the flags and issued a statement that the City “does not endorse any one candidate for any office and does not display signage for any candidates or parties.”

If we wish to be a place of law and of order, then it is law that governs this issue, not one-bad-turn-deserves-another or the-other-side-started-it. That said, we would encourage the reporting of any suspected misuse by a public employee supporting any political party to our office.

Iowa Code section on who is allowed to be at a polling place:

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