How politicians control coverage of their fundraising: A Joni Ernst case study

Some incumbency advantages in campaigns are inevitable, like higher name ID and greater ability to raise money from interest groups.

Others are undeserved.

Bleeding Heartland has noted before that Iowa members of Congress, especially U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, greatly influence media coverage of their activities. If these elected officials don’t brag about it in a news release or conference call with reporters, Iowans are unlikely ever to hear that it happened. As a result, stories that would shine an unflattering light on the senators largely stay out of the news.

Articles about campaign fundraising shouldn’t suffer from the same dynamic. Journalists can easily do original reporting without being on the ground in Washington. Anyone can access filings on the Federal Election Commission website and convey the key figures to readers.

Yet too often, what Iowans learn about political fundraising is largely written by campaign strategists.

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Iowa media shrug as Farm Bureau deploys corporate cash for Mike Naig

Iowa law prohibits corporate campaign contributions, so it seems like big news for a business lobby group to seek a “one-time investment of corporate funds” on behalf of a statewide candidate whose election “could return dividends for a decade or more to come.”

Yet media gatekeepers have mostly decided the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s plan to elect Republican Mike Naig as secretary of agriculture isn’t newsworthy.

While most print and broadcast outlets ignore the story, pro-Naig advertising that strongly resembles the Republican’s campaign messaging has reached hundreds of thousands of voters.

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Doug Gross used Des Moines Register to lobby for his law firm's client

Longtime Republican power-broker Doug Gross published two Des Moines Register guest columns within a three-month period criticizing a planned Polk County program to assess the risk of releasing defendants before trial. The BrownWinick partner did not disclose to the newspaper’s editors that his law firm’s lobbying team represents Lederman Bail Bonds, a company that would be adversely affected if fewer low-risk offenders are required to post a cash bond to get out of jail.

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Journalists, stop validating Republican spin on voter ID

Later today, Iowa Senate Republicans will give final approval to a bill that could prevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots. A broad coalition of groups oppose House File 516, because common sense and research on similar laws in other states overwhelmingly point to one conclusion: voter ID and signature verification requirements will create barriers to the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, disproportionately affecting students, the poor, the elderly, and people of color.

Republicans don’t acknowledge any of the expert testimony. They pay no attention to the conservative judge who regrets his ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law, having concluded that such laws are “a means of voter suppression.” They keep insisting their so-called “election integrity” bill won’t block a single citizen from voting.

They offer up false equivalencies, saying in their newsletters and on the Senate floor that Iowa Democrats also passed a voter ID law when they controlled both legislative chambers.

These tactics can be effective because most news reports on contentious issues give equal weight to both sides, even if one side is not credible. The “he said/she said” frame with no effort to evaluate competing claims is one of my major journalism pet peeves.

But I realized last Friday that when a politician stretches the truth, a reporter’s incompetent fact-check is worse than no fact-checking at all.

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Shorter Paul Pate: Iowa elections clean, but let's make it harder for people to vote

Following the standard Republican playbook, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate announced a series of steps today that would make it harder for thousands of Iowans to exercise their right to vote. He produced no evidence of any fraud problems his proposals would solve, which isn’t surprising, because Iowa is already one of the most highly-rated states for electoral integrity.

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