Enforcement of Iowa ethics law is a joke.
Dubuque County Treasurer Eric Stierman and Winneshiek County Treasurer Wayne Walter stayed for free in a vendor’s Florida condo a few months ago, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on March 13. The condo’s owner is Marc Carr, whose company GovTech Services collects local taxes for most of the state’s counties. The officials “denied any wrongdoing, describing Carr as a friend with whom they had previously vacationed in Florida.”
Iowa gift law does not exempt friends or vacations. While Stierman and Walter committed a particularly outrageous violation, their disregard for the code is hardly surprising.
For years, the Iowa State County Treasurer’s Association and the Iowa State Association of Counties have enabled and encouraged gifts to county treasurers from GovTech and SRI Incorporated, which handles online tax auctions. Since 2014, the two companies have paid for scholarships available only to children and grandchildren of county treasurers or their employees.
The mission of the association of counties is “to promote effective and responsible county government.” Yet the group’s top attorney Kristi Harshbarger helped devise a scheme to offer the scholarships despite the apparent gift law problem. Later, Harshbarger pushed back hard against an ethics board opinion that the program did not comply with the statute.