The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on August 12 formally closed its investigation of Heritage Action for America, after finding no evidence the national conservative group lobbied Governor Kim Reynolds’ office earlier this year.
The board, which is charged with enforcing state laws on lobbying the executive branch, authorized executive director Mike Marshall in May to review possible undisclosed lobbying by Heritage Action. Mother Jones had recently published video of the group’s leader bragging to donors about working “quickly” and “quietly” to help write Iowa’s new election law.
Board chair James Albert summarized the investigation’s findings after the six ethics board members discussed the matter in closed session during their August 12 meeting. “Our staff found no evidence at all of Heritage Action lobbying the governor’s office or the Secretary of State’s office or any other executive branch agency,” Albert said. The Office of Chief Information Officer searched records from every executive branch agency. The only email chain involving Heritage Action had already been provided to Marshall by the governor’s legal counsel, and “in no way constituted any lobbying of the governor’s office.”
Those emails, previously released by Marshall, show Heritage Action staff sought to coordinate a communications strategy about the new voting restrictions. The group wanted to include a quote from Reynolds in its statement praising the new law, and asked the governor to appear in a video touting Heritage Action’s “leadership” and “partnership.” Reynolds did not record any such video.
The ethics board has no jurisdiction to enforce the Iowa legislature’s rules on lobbying. The Iowa House Ethics Committee, comprised of three state representatives from each party, does not yet have a meeting scheduled to hear complaints filed in May by then House Minority Leader Todd Prichard. The top Iowa House Democrat asserted Heritage representatives failed to register as lobbyists and failed to declare the group’s position on Senate File 413 prior to advocating for its passage.
Heritage Action’s attorney said in a letter to Marshall in May that the group’s staff “have had no communication with any members of the Iowa legislature” over bills considered this year. He said the group had mobilized “grassroots volunteers” who “subsequently engaged with their legislators as citizen advocates” and are not required to register as lobbyists.
State Representative Bobby Kaufmann, who chairs the House committee that handles election bills, vehemently denied in May that Heritage Action lobbying influenced the new voting restrictions in any way. His counterpart in the upper chamber, State Senator Roby Smith, likewise said in a written statement, “Heritage Foundation had no part in the drafting” of the legislation.