# Brent Rastetter

Exclusive: Governor fast-tracked COVID tests for firm linked to major donor

Governor Kim Reynolds authorized using state resources to conduct COVID-19 tests at a workplace that had only one confirmed case after the company’s owners reached out to her last May.

Iowa National Guard and Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) personnel facilitated coronavirus testing at GMT Corporation, a machine parts manufacturer in Waverly, on May 22, 2020. Fewer than a dozen Iowa businesses received such visits during the two months the state’s “strike team” program was active, when coronavirus testing kits were not widely available.

Summit Ag Investors, the asset management arm of Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group, owns a majority interest in GMT. Emails Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request indicated, and GMT’s top executive confirmed, that someone from Summit Ag “contacted the governor directly” after GMT staff learned they “would most likely be denied” testing assistance from the state.

Neither Summit Ag executives nor staff in the governor’s office responded to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

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Weekend open thread: Political corruption edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I’ve been reading about the recent convictions of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell on federal corruption charges. Both are likely to do prison time for accepting money and favors for personal benefit. Incidentally, McDonnell refused a deal that would have required him to plead guilty to just one charge, sparing his wife from prosecution. Iowa’s own former State Senator Kent Sorenson showed more chivalry–or was it wisdom, for once?–when he agreed to plead guilty on corruption charges, protecting his own wife from prosecution in connection with illegal payments.

While I have no problem with prosecuting greedy politicians, it occurs to me that the McDonnells’ outrageous actions (such as letting a wealthy businessman cater their daughter’s wedding) were less damaging to the public welfare than many more prevalent forms of “legal corruption.” No governor will be prosecuted for appointing wealthy donors to powerful state positions, where they may promote their own businesses or interfere with those they see threatening their industry. No governor will ever be prosecuted for giving interest groups undue influence on public policy, either covertly or openly. In the August 31 Sunday Des Moines Register, Richard Doak wrote an excellent piece on how Governor Terry Branstad has “put state government at the service of one segment of the people: the business community.” I’ve posted excerpts after the jump. Doak’s not talking about criminal activity, but he cites policies that have harmed Iowa more than any luxury vacation for the McDonnells could ever harm Virginia.

On a related note, the Brennan Center for Justice recently published a disturbing report on trends in federal campaign spending:

In recent cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Supreme Court has been narrowing what counts as corruption in campaign finance cases to mere quid pro quo corruption. Quid pro quo is Latin meaning “this for that.” In other words only explicit exchanges of gifts for votes or campaign cash for official acts will count as corruption for the Roberts Supreme Court. But a new study entitled, “The New Soft Money” from Professor Daniel Tokaji and Renata Strause calls this narrow read of corruption into question.  

Speaking of “dark money,” Iowa’s third Congressional district was among thirteen tossup U.S. House races examined in a separate Brennan Center report on outside political spending. A growing trend (not yet seen in IA-03) is for a super-PAC to be formed supporting a single Congressional candidate, giving “big donors a way of evading federal contribution limits.”

UPDATE: Over at the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s blog, Adam Rappaport illustrates another example of legalized corruption: “issue ads” funded by dark money, which are clearly intended to influence elections. Although the “tax code plainly says section 501(c)(4) organizations must be ‘exclusively’ engaged in non-political activity,” the IRS interpretation allows dark money groups to fund blatant electioneering communications.  

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Environmental Protection Commission's closed meeting prompts concern

An Iowa House member suggested last week that the state Environmental Protection Commission went “beyond the intent of the law” by calling a closed session to discuss a decision related to a hog lot expansion in Poweshiek County. However, a spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office suggested that a “contested administrative law case that involves legal briefs, hearings, decisions, appeals” qualifies as a circumstance permitting a closed session under the Iowa Code.

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Ethics board dismisses complaints against Brent Rastetter and Jason Glass

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on Thursday dismissed ethics complaints filed against Environmental Protection Commission member Brent Rastetter and Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass. Rastetter had been accused of a conflict of interest related to his factory farm construction business. The complaint against Glass focused on an all-expenses-paid trip to Brazil, which he took in September.

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Dandekar will easily be confirmed to Iowa Utilities Board

At the Moving Planet climate change event in Des Moines on Saturday, I heard a few activists talk about organizing against former State Senator Swati Dandekar’s confirmation to the Iowa Utilities Board. The Iowa Senate will consider her nomination during the 2012 legislative session.

I would advise environmentalists not to waste their time on that particular hopeless cause. Senate Democrats may be unhappy that Governor Terry Branstad jeopardized their control of the chamber by nominating Dandekar, but they are not going to block her confirmation.

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Iowa Senate may reject two Branstad appointees (updated)

The Iowa Senate confirmed six of Governor Terry Branstad’s appointees to state offices and boards yesterday, but Democratic senators indicated that two of the governor’s picks may not receive the two-thirds vote needed in the upper chamber. Meanwhile, Branstad suggested at his weekly press conference that race may be a factor in opposition to Isaiah McGee as director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights.

Follow me after the jump for more on who was confirmed yesterday and the battles coming later this week.

UPDATE: On April 12 the Senate rejected McGee as well as William Gustoff, one of Branstad’s appointees to the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Senators confirmed Teresa Wahlert with two votes to spare and three members of the Environmental Protection Commission. Details on the April 12 votes are below.

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Branstad stacks environmental commission with agribusiness advocates

Governor Terry Branstad announced more than 200 appointees to various state boards and commissions yesterday. He named Dolores Mertz, Brent Rastetter, Eugene Ver Steeg, and Mary Boote to four-year terms on the Environmental Protection Commission.

Mertz retired last year after more than two decades in the Iowa House. She was the most conservative House Democrat and chaired the Agriculture Committee for four years. She was a reliable vote against any attempt to limit pollution from factory farms and regularly assigned such bills to subcommittees that would bury them. Her sons own large hog farms and have been cited for several environmental violations. She also earns income from renting farmland to those operations. On the policy side, last year Mertz fast-tracked a bill that would have undermined new rules on spreading manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. She pushed (unsuccessfully) for a bill that would have given landowners until 2020 to comply with regulations passed in 1997 to prevent water contamination from agricultural drainage wells. Mertz has spoken of her “passion” to advocate for agriculture.

Brent Rastetter gave Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign at least $30,000. He is the owner and CEO of Quality Ag Construction, a company he and his brother Bruce Rastetter created in 1992. Quality Ag Construction’s market niche has been building hog confinement facilities. UPDATE: It’s also worth noting that Bruce Rastetter built a business empire in large-scale hog production and later ethanol. Groups representing agribusiness and biofuels producers are suing the Environmental Protection Commission and the Department of Natural Resources over water quality protection rules.

Ver Steeg was first named to the Environmental Protection Commission by Governor Chet Culver in 2008 for the position on the nine-member body that must be filled by “an active grain or livestock farmer.” Ver Steeg owns a hog farm and is a past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Boote is a “longtime Republican activist” who founded and runs an organization called Truth About Trade and Technology. The organization’s mission is to “support free trade and agricultural biotechnology.” It is primarily funded by “U.S. agribusinesses, farm organizations and individuals.” Boote has served as executive director of Truth About Trade and Technology for the past decade, so her income depends on the business organizations supporting the group.

Many in the environment-minded community criticized Culver in 2007, when he replaced four strong members of the Environmental Protection Commission with two people who had background in conservation and two who had close ties to agribusiness. Culver later named other supporters of protecting natural resources to the EPC, notably Shearon Elderkin and Carrie La Seur.

I don’t see any balance in Branstad’s appointees. That doesn’t bode well for the future work of the Environmental Protection Commission, charged with providing policy oversight over Iowa’s environmental protection efforts.

After the jump I’ve posted the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s statement on the new EPC appointees. Iowa CCI has sought to monitor compliance with new rules on spreading manure over farmland during the winter.  

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