Last week the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously to dismiss Ed and Lynn Fallon’s complaint against State Senator Merlin Bartz, who used his official website to promote this petition last month. The petition sought to pressure Iowa’s county recorders to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Fallons contended that Bartz failed to comply with the Senate Code of Ethics, which requires legislators to “encourage respect for the law.” They also questioned whether taxpayer money was used to support the website where Bartz promoted the petition drive and urged volunteers to send copies of their signature lists to the Iowa Family Policy Center.
The Senate Ethics Committee concluded after a few minutes’ discussion that Bartz was exercising his free speech rights.
On May 18, I’M for Iowa released a statement depicting the hearing as a “sham.” Contrary to the Iowa Senate Code of Ethics, the Senate Ethics Committee failed to inform the Fallons of the date and time of the hearing in advance. The committee also did not consider the specific questions raised in the Fallons’ complaint. I’ve posted I’M for Iowa’s statement after the jump.
It seems clear that two political realities derailed any serious inquiry into the complaint against Bartz. First, Bartz is an insider, and the complainants are outsiders. (Heck, Ed Fallon was an outsider even when he was serving in the state legislature.) Earlier this year, the Iowa House Ethics Committee dismissed with prejudice a complaint Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed against State Representative Dolores Mertz without seriously considering many of the issues raised by the group.
I would put very low odds on any ethics complaint filed by any citizen action group leading to disciplinary action against a state representative or senator. (Please correct me if you know of any counter-examples.)
Second, I suspect that Senate Democrats have no interest in making a martyr out of Bartz. Opponents of marriage equality are desperate to show that their rights are threatened by same-sex marriages. We don’t need Bartz to be purportedly “punished for speaking his mind” (even though that wasn’t the point of the Fallons’ complaint). Look what the National Organization for Marriage has done to make Miss California USA seem like a victim of “gay marriage activists”.
Bartz hasn’t prevented any same-sex marriages from taking place, but he has secured a reputation as the most aggressive defender of “traditional marriage” in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. He has also helped the Iowa Family Policy Center generate lots of new leads for their next membership drive.
I’ll be interested to see whether Senate Republicans seek to replace their current leader, Paul McKinley, with Bartz next year. McKinley’s actions on the marriage front have been found wanting by some Iowa conservatives and anti-gay activists.