# Ethics



Unlike Whitver, Miller-Meeks put herself in legal jeopardy

During the first election cycle after redistricting, it’s typical for many Iowa politicians to move, seeking more favorable territory or to avoid a match-up against another incumbent. What set this year apart from a normal campaign under a new map: major controversies related to those address changes.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver faced a formal challenge to his voter registration, after a resident of his new district claimed he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement to be on the November ballot.

And this week, Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard was first to report that U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks declared herself to be living at a friend’s house, on the last day she could change her voter registration without showing proof of address.

While Whitver played it close to the line, he successfully laid the groundwork for his voter registration change. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald determined last week that Whitver’s declared residency at a condo in Grimes was valid. The top Iowa Senate Republican also avoided any voter fraud allegations by not casting a ballot in the 2022 primary or general elections.

In contrast, the circumstances surrounding Miller-Meeks’ address change raise legitimate questions about whether she committed election misconduct or perjury, which are both class “D” felonies in Iowa.

Staff for Miller-Meeks did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about her voter registration. Nor did State Senator Chris Cournoyer, whose Scott County home the member of Congress now claims as a residence.

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Iowa ethics board fines Eddie Andrews for sign violation

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted unanimously on November 3 to fine State Representative Eddie Andrews’ campaign $500 for failing to include attribution statements on several large signs promoting the Republican lawmaker’s re-election in Iowa House district 43.

Karin Derry, the former Democratic legislator Andrews defeated in 2020, brought the matter to the board’s attention in June. Her complaint mentioned three large campaign signs that did not contain any attribution statement. Iowa law exempts small yard signs from the requirement, but not large signs (commonly known as “barn signs”).

Ethics board staff contacted Andrews about the complaint in June, and the board voted in September to accept the complaint. Staff again attempted to reach the Republican candidate via email in October. But Andrews’ campaign did not provide photographic evidence of correct attribution statements on the disputed signs until November 1.

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Exclusive: Miller-Meeks used taxpayer funds for large radio ad buy

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks spent more than $63,000 from her office budget to pay for radio advertising highlighting top campaign issues for House Republicans. The expenditures, using the “franking privilege” available to all members of Congress, were legal during the five weeks Miller-Weeks bought the ads, taking advantage of a little-noticed provision allowing such taxpayer-funded media promotions.  

Bleeding Heartland’s review of Iowa radio station political files, archived on the Federal Communications Commission’s website, showed Miller-Meeks used franking funds to place 60-second commercials on at least eight Iowa radio stations in August or September.

Staff for Miller-Meeks did not reply to inquiries about the advertising campaign, which marked a departure from how the Republican allocated her office budget during her first year and a half in Congress.

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Exclusive: Ethics board cleared use of state building for SOTU response

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board gave advance approval of Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to deliver a nationally-televised speech on behalf of Republicans from state government property.

Reynolds delivered the GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address from the terrace of the State Historical Building in downtown Des Moines. That part of the facility has been closed to the public all year due to renovations.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs did not charge the governor’s office for the space, which previously cost thousands of dollars to rent. However, documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show the Kim Reynolds for Iowa campaign and the CNN television network covered some other costs associated with the State of the Union response.

Iowa law prohibits “the expenditure of public moneys for political purposes.” But a few days before the March 1 speech, the ethics board’s executive director Zach Goodrich assured the governor’s senior legal counsel that based on his understanding of the facts, Reynolds “would not be in violation” of that code section if she spoke from the State Historical Building.

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Matt Whitaker paid well to lobby for Trump pardons

Former Acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker earned $400,000 last year to advocate for President Donald Trump to issue pardons and commutations, Roger Sollenberger revealed in a December 1 scoop for the Daily Beast. The conservative group FreedomWorks, a 501(c)4 organization that does not disclose its donors, reported the expenditure to the IRS as covering “consulting services” for Whitaker, an independent contractor.

FreedomWorks announced in March 2020 that Whitaker would chair a new project “which aims to recommend deserving individuals” for pardons and commutations. Sollenberger noted,

That role raises a number of ethical questions for Whitaker. He was directly involved in White House clemency negotiations possibly as late as Trump’s last full day in office, but never registered as a lobbyist while advocating for pardons—and FreedomWorks never named clemency issues in any of its 2020 lobbying reports.

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