Weak laws allow Iowa Farm Bureau to boost Mike Naig with corporate cash

“This is illegal right?” a contact asked this morning after reading Pat Rynard’s scoop about the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation soliciting agribusiness dollars to help Republican Mike Naig win the secretary of agriculture election.

You’d think so, since Iowa law prohibits corporations from donating to candidate committees or state PACs.

However, the Farm Bureau appears to have found a legal way to boost Naig with Big Ag cash while concealing the sources of those funds until after November 6.

The scheme is a case study of how Iowa’s campaign finance laws fail to limit corporate influence effectively or even provide transparency when companies try to buy elections.

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A look at Jefferson County, Iowa

A former southeast Iowa resident shares insight into an unusual rural county, where Trump supporters campaigned on a unique message. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Given the increasing attention being paid to the continuing decline of rural Iowa, Jefferson County is an interesting absurdity among these conversations and the 2016 presidential election.

Jefferson County, population 16,843, is a mesh of traditional rural Iowa and a hot pot coalition of Transcendental Meditation followers from around the globe. Fairfield, the county seat, is more than 60 miles to the nearest urban center and stands out as the rare rural Iowa community that has gained population in recent years: a 4 percent population increase between 2010-2014, according to a questionable census report. (Questionable because a portion of the census’s reported increase in residents may be international students who took classes in Fairfield, but live in other states for the majority of their student/work visa.)

Fairfield is also known for its progressive views on organic farming and green energy, as well as residents’ higher than average educational attainment and religious diversity. Given those facts, Jefferson County should have been an easy win for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton coalition in 2016. As it has been reliably, other than in 2000, when the Natural Law Party’s John Hagelin won 15 percent of the vote, shifting the county from the Al Gore to the George Bush column. Instead, Clinton lost Jefferson County to Donald Trump by 38 votes.

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Bruce Rastetter not on Trump's short list for agriculture secretary?

Today the New York Times published short lists for every position in Donald Trump’s cabinet, “using information from the Trump transition team, lawmakers, lobbyists and Washington experts.” The leading names for secretary of agriculture are Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, and Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Six Iowans were among more than 60 people on the “Agricultural Advisory Committee” Trump’s campaign announced in August. Governor Terry Branstad has never expressed interest in a federal government job. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is widely expected to run for governor in 2018, unless Branstad seeks a seventh term. Sam Clovis is under consideration for deputy chief of staff for policy. Former State Representative Annette Sweeney, who leads a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women, doesn’t have the stature for a cabinet position. The same goes for Ron Heck, a farmer and past president of the American Soybean Association.

Then there’s Bruce Rastetter, who made a fortune building factory farms and another fortune in the ethanol industry. Often described as a “kingmaker” despite the mixed results for candidates he has favored, Rastetter may soon need a new gig for throwing his weight around politically. His term on the Iowa Board of Regents, where he is nominally president but de facto the decider for the nine-member board, expires at the end of April 2017. Even after last week’s devastation, Democrats have enough votes in the Iowa Senate to block Rastetter’s confirmation, assuming Branstad renominates him to the governing board for the three state universities.

Trump is reportedly considering quite a few corporate executives for cabinet positions, so why isn’t Rastetter on the short list? He may be a casualty of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s declining influence in Trump’s inner circle. Rastetter has long been on good terms with Christie, but the governor was replaced as leader of Trump’s transition team soon after the election. (A source told Deadspin that “Trump had just picked Christie as transition chair nominally, as everyone had assumed the New Jersey governor would never actually have to do any work.”)

What will be Rastetter’s next political move if no federal job is forthcoming, and the Iowa Senate declines to confirm him to another term on the Board of Regents? Spin your own scenarios in this thread.

P.S.-Searches on the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s website indicate that Rastetter gave less money to Iowa Republican candidates and political committees during the 2016 cycle than he had during the previous several elections. His only five-figure gifts in 2015 or 2016 were $10,000 to Kim Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor, $25,000 to Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix’s committee, and several gifts totaling $40,000 to House Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s committee. That’s a significant drop from Rastetter’s large contributions to GOP candidates and committees during the 2014 and 2012 election cycles. He hasn’t given any money to Nick Ryan’s Team Iowa PAC since 2012, when his donations to that PAC alone totaled $120,000. The Team Iowa PAC ceased to be a major player in Iowa legislative races after the 2012 election. The American Future Fund 501(c)4 group, for which Rastetter provided “seed money” in 2007, spent less to influence federal elections in 2014 and 2016 than it had in 2012.

UPDATE: Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly behind the “purge” of Christie loyalists from Trump’s transition team. When Christie was a U.S. attorney, he put Kushner’s father in prison.

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Weekend open thread: More Iowa Republicans throwing in with Trump

While Republican insiders across the country despair about the presidential race, dozens urging the Republican National Committee to stop investing in Donald Trump, others wishing in vain that Trump would drop out, and some even quitting their political jobs, Iowa’s most influential Republicans continue to stand with the GOP nominee.

This week, Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to advise Trump on policy; his major influencer Bruce Rastetter will reportedly do the same. In addition, two other well-known GOP operatives took on formal roles in Trump’s Iowa campaign. Jamie Johnson will be coalitions director and Jake Ketzner a senior advisor. Johnson is a veteran of Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid. After a spell supporting Ted Cruz, he landed with Rick Perry’s short-lived campaign this cycle. An ordained minister, he will presumably focus on engaging evangelical Christians, a key constituency for Santorum in 2012 and for Cruz this year. Jake Ketzner managed Representative Steve King’s re-election campaign in 2012, the year he faced Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district. Ketzner left Branstad’s staff for a lobbying job last summer and soon became a senior adviser to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Iowa caucus campaign.

Why are more respectable Republicans joining what looks like a sinking ship? For one thing, the latest public polls show Trump running better in Iowa than in national polls or surveys in swing states with more diverse populations. So even if Trump gets blown out nationally, working on his campaign here might not be a liability, especially if he carries Iowa or loses by a relatively small margin. Also, hitching your wagon to a toxic nominee is less risky when your state’s governor, lieutenant governor, GOP U.S. senators and representatives are giving you cover. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that going all-in for Trump helped our state’s establishment secure a promise from the nominee that if he’s elected, the Iowa caucuses will remain first in the nominating calendar.

Neither Branstad nor any Republicans who represent Iowa in Congress have responded to my questions about worrying aspects of Trump’s candidacy. To my knowledge, only two GOP elected officials in Iowa have publicly ruled out voting for Trump: State Senator David Johnson and Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara. Tips are welcome if readers know of other GOP officials willing to say #NeverTrump. I’ve sought comment from many whom I considered “likely suspects.”

Several experienced Iowa campaign operatives have said they won’t vote for the GOP nominee, including David Kochel, a former strategist for Mitt Romney and senior figure in Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign. Justin Arnold, former state political director for Marco Rubio, explained in a March op-ed column for the Des Moines Register why he would not support Trump under any circumstances. He announced earlier this month that he has joined the direct mail and political consulting firm Majority Strategies. That company’s clients include U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) and at least one Iowa GOP state committee.

Joel Kurtinitis, a onetime staffer on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and former Republican State Central Committee member, published a blistering commentary at The Blaze on Friday: Five Things You Can Never Say Again After Voting Trump. I enclose below excerpts from a piece that social conservatives might describe as “convicting.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to build a strong field operation in Iowa and other battleground states, while Trump’s ground game is remarkably weak and in some areas literally missing in action.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Iowa State Fair opened on Thursday and runs through Sunday, August 21. A summer cold moving systematically through our household has so far kept us from the fairgrounds, but we will get there once or twice this week. Bleeding Heartland has previously published my best advice for enjoying the fair, especially in the company of young children. The schedule of candidates speaking at the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox” near the administration building is here. Like Brad Anderson, I was surprised Senator Chuck Grassley passed on the opportunity. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. Grassley tends to avoid putting public events on his schedule in Polk and several other large-population counties.

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Donald Trump's hilariously bad rollout of a smart VP pick

I was hoping for Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump’s “gut” wanted to go with Chris Christie, but family members and campaign chairman Paul Manafort managed to persuade the impulsive billionaire that Mike Pence was the smart pick. The Indiana governor is a strong conservative and could do the most unify the party, having endorsed Ted Cruz in April.

Trump should have been able to get a boost from his running mate choice going into the Republican National Convention. Instead, he fumbled the rollout in several ways, summarized well by Philip Bump. It must have humiliated Pence to have CNN, the New York Times, NBC News, and other media outlets focus on Trump’s last-minute doubts about the pick, instead of on what Pence brings to the ticket. Christie suffered an even greater blow at the hands of the man he endorsed in February.

I’m no graphic design expert, but the Trump-Pence logo is a disaster. I thought it was a joke the first time I saw it yesterday, when a Facebook friend shared this not-safe-for-work commentary. Gregory Krieg reported more delicately for CNN that the logo “is raising eyebrows” and “drawing titters from cheeky tweeters.” Iowa Twitter user @jbelcap pointed out that there is a “hidden negative space H” in the graphic as well.

Any comments about the Trump-Pence ticket are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: It took only one day for the Trump campaign to dump the logo and scrub all images of it from the website. The new logo is after the jump.

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Joni Ernst on Donald Trump's short list for vice president after all

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst met with Donald Trump today in New Jersey. The statement she released later said nothing about being his running mate. However, citing unnamed sources close to Trump’s campaign, CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Jim Acosta, and Sara Murray reported yesterday that Ernst “is being considered” for the vice presidential nomination.

In mid-June, Ernst told Iowa reporters she doubted she was on Trump’s short list, since no one from the campaign had reached out to her. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is now the leading candidate to be the GOP running mate, according to CNN’s sources, followed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. David M. Jackson reported for USA Today that Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is also under consideration. Others have mentioned Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, or perhaps Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin.

In May, both Governor Terry Branstad and Senator Chuck Grassley endorsed the idea of Ernst as Trump’s running mate. Though some see Iowa’s junior senator as a good fit for the GOP ticket, I think Trump would do better to choose someone with more governing and policy experience.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Gingrich, for maximum Hillary Clinton blowout potential. On the other hand, being closely associated with Trump would hurt Ernst politically in the long run, despite the initial boost to her stature. So I would welcome a Trump-Ernst ticket as well.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I enclose below today’s full statement from Ernst. My favorite part referred to ensuring the U.S. remains “a strong, stabilizing force around the globe.” Trump in the Oval Office would be the opposite of a stabilizing presence. Almost every week he makes some impulsive comment that could cause an international incident if he were president.

UPDATE: Pence met with Trump on July 2, Brian Slodysko reported for the Associated Press. A spokesperson for the Indiana governor, who endorsed Ted Cruz for president a few days before his state’s primary in April, said “nothing was offered” during Pence’s meeting with the presumptive GOP nominee. Pence would be a stronger running mate than Ernst, though why someone who may have his own presidential ambitions would want to hitch his wagon to Trump, I can’t imagine.

SECOND UPDATE: Sarah Boden reported for Iowa Public Radio on July 5 that Grassley again said Ernst would be a good running mate for Trump, citing her “military and legislative experience, and her expertise as someone from a rural, agricultural state.”

THIRD UPDATE: Added below excerpts from stories by Daniel Halper and Robert Costa about Trump considering one of his advisers, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

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