State funds not used for Kim Reynolds' "Fair-side chats"

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office told a state regulator no public funds were used for the twelve “Fair-side chats” Reynolds held with Republican presidential candidates during the Iowa State Fair last month.

Reynolds conducted friendly interviews with the candidates in the courtyard of JR’s SouthPork Ranch, a restaurant on the state fair grounds. A sign produced for the events featured a logo and the words “Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Fair-side chats.”

I sought to clarify who paid for the sign and other expenses associated with the chats, because Iowa Code Chapter 68A.405A prohibits statewide elected officials from spending public funds on “any paid advertisement or promotion” bearing the official’s “written name, likeness, or voice” in a range of settings, including “A paid exhibit display at the Iowa state fair […].” Reynolds signed that statute (commonly known as the the “self-promotion law”) in 2018.

The Iowa State Fair’s marketing director Mindy Williamson told Bleeding Heartland via email on August 14 that the fair “wasn’t involved” with the events, and “Kollin Crompton with the Governor’s office organized the Fair-side chats.”

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is charged with enforcing the code chapter including the self-promotion law, so I asked the board’s executive director Zach Goodrich whether he was aware of who paid for the space or any equipment used for the events. Goodrich told me via email on August 15 he’d had no communications from the governor’s office or campaign regarding the fair-side chats.

Reynolds’ chief of staff Taryn Frideres was present during the governor’s August 18 chat with Will Hurd, which I attended. She told me to direct my questions to Crompton in his capacity with the Reynolds campaign. Crompton’s full-time position is deputy communications director in the governor’s office, but he was wearing a Reynolds campaign t-shirt at the JR’s SouthPork venue. He did not reply to email sent to his campaign address.

After the fair ended, I followed up with Goodrich, who shared the following response he had received from the governor’s office:

Public monies were not used in connection with the “Fair-Side Chats” event that the Kim Reynolds for Iowa Campaign hosted at the Iowa State Fair. Accordingly, Iowa Code § 68A-405A would not be applicable. I do not have any information related to campaign expenses that the Kim Reynolds for Iowa Campaign may have incurred for this event. Any questions related to that would need to be directed to the campaign.

Since the campaign isn’t required to file its next disclosure of fundraising and spending until January 2024, it will be some time before we learn how much it cost to put on the fair-side chats and stream them on the campaign’s YouTube channel. Staff at JR’s SouthPork did not respond to inquiries about whether the Reynolds campaign paid to rent the patio, or whether the restaurant donated the space (which would need to be declared as an in-kind campaign contribution).

Meanwhile, the governor’s office continued to flout the spirit of the self-promotion law this year by displaying the names and likenesses of Reynolds and Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg all over the governor’s office booth in the Iowa State Fair’s Varied Industries Building.

Photo by Laura Belin, August 2023

As Bleeding Heartland has previously reported, all other statewide elected officials altered their state fair booths after the law took effect in 2018. So you won’t find photos or names of the secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, state treasurer, attorney general, or state auditor on their offices’ booths in the Varied Industries Building.

The governor’s office keeps reusing its old display because a previous executive director of the ethics board took the position in a 2018 advisory opinion that the self-promotion law only prohibits spending public funds on materials used for the state fair exhibit. Goodrich told me last year,

My understanding is the Governor’s Office has only paid for the ground in recent years and the booth itself was paid for before 68A.405A went into effect.

As far as I know, the question of whether it is permissible to pay for the space to display the promotional materials hasn’t been asked before.

Budget reports Bleeding Heartland has received through public records requests indicate that the governor’s office has been spending $4,200 from its annual office budget for Iowa State Fair rentals (see here and here). The Varied Industries Building has heavy foot traffic, so any display there puts the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s name and likeness in front of thousands of Iowans at the taxpayers’ expense.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin