Axne corrects errors on financial disclosures

U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) has corrected errors and omissions on the annual financial disclosure statements required for members of Congress, her office announced on October 8. The non-profit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center filed complaints last month against Axne and six other House members, saying they had not reported stock trades within the time frame specified by federal law.

Axne’s amended disclosures have not yet been posted on the official Congressional website, but I will update with the link when the files are available.

A news release described the errors as “clerical issues,” which Axne was unaware of before the ethics complaint.

As soon as she learned of these issues, she took steps to properly address them, including hiring an outside counsel to audit her reports and confirming with the third-party money manager who oversees the related retirement accounts that she did not personally direct or execute any of these trades.

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House Ethics panel deadlocks over Heritage Action complaints

Voting along party lines, the Iowa House Ethics Committee failed to take action October 5 on two complaints relating to possible undisclosed lobbying by the national conservative group Heritage Action.

Democratic State Representative Todd Prichard filed the complaints in May after a leaked video showed Heritage Action’s executive director Jessica Anderson boasting that the group had worked “quickly” and “quietly” with Iowa lawmakers to help draft and pass a new election bill. In the complaints, Prichard asserted that Anderson and Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Heritage Foundation’s Election Reform Initiative, violated the Iowa legislature’s lobbying rules by not registering as lobbyists.

Key Republican lawmakers have denied that Heritage Action influenced the new election law’s provisions.

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Ethics complaint a hard lesson for Axne, warning for Miller-Meeks

The non-profit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center filed ethics complaints on September 22 against seven members of Congress, including U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03). The complaints ask the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate four U.S. House Democrats and three Republicans, who did not disclose stock trades within the time frame required by the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. That 2012 law was designed to prevent members of Congress from turning inside knowledge into profit.

For Axne, it was the worst way to find out about a disclosure problem. The ethics complaint generated extensive Iowa media coverage, all of which included quotes from delighted Republicans. For U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), the episode was a heads up to get her own financial disclosures in order before she faces similar scrutiny next year.

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Ethics board again defers to governor on self-promotion law

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board unanimously found that Governor Kim Reynolds did not violate a state ban on “self-promotion” last year when she appeared in advertisements promoting COVID-19 safety measures.

The board reviewed the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” online and television ad campaign, funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars, after State Auditor Rob Sand asserted in a report that Reynolds violated a state law prohibiting “self-promotion with taxpayer funds.”

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A failure to communicate

A special investigation by the State Auditor’s office asserted on June 3 that Governor Kim Reynolds violated Iowa law by using $152,585 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to purchase “online and televised ads containing the Governor’s voice, image, and name.”

Less than 30 minutes after the auditor’s report was published, Reynolds responded in a news release that the law “clearly allows” such use of public money in the context of a public health disaster emergency.

A few hours later, State Auditor Rob Sand defended his conclusions in a new written statement.

My non-lawyer’s reading of the relevant statutes aligns with the governor’s interpretation. But while legal points could be argued, one indisputable fact is that all parties involved should have discussed these findings prior to the report’s publication, instead of duking it out in news releases today.

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