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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Investigation found no Heritage Action lobbying of Iowa governor

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on August 12 formally closed its investigation of Heritage Action for America, after finding no evidence the national conservative group lobbied Governor Kim Reynolds’ office earlier this year.

The board, which is charged with enforcing state laws on lobbying the executive branch, authorized executive director Mike Marshall in May to review possible undisclosed lobbying by Heritage Action. Mother Jones had recently published video of the group’s leader bragging to donors about working “quickly” and “quietly” to help write Iowa’s new election law.

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Iowa ethics board to review COVID-19 ads featuring governor

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will review advertisements featuring Governor Kim Reynolds, which were funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

The board’s executive director Mike Marshall told Bleeding Heartland on June 18 that some commercials from the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” campaign launched last November “are now under review by the Ethics Board.” Earlier this month, State Auditor Rob Sand asked the board to consider whether the ads violated Iowa’s law banning state officials from engaging in “self-promotion with taxpayer funds.”

Marshall said he anticipates the ethics board will discuss the matter in closed session at its next meeting, scheduled for August 12.

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Iowa campaign regulator may discuss pre-checked recurring donations

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board may discuss whether to regulate campaigns pre-selecting recurring donation options, according to executive director Mike Marshall.

In May, the Federal Election Commission unanimously recommended that Congress ban the practice, which Donald Trump’s campaign used to raise enormous sums in 2020. Many of Trump’s supporters did not realize they were committing to recurring gifts and later asked for refunds or filed fraud complaints.

At least three Iowa Republican office-holders–Governor Kim Reynolds and U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks–adopted the tactic this year. Some of their fundraising pages on the WinRed platform have two boxes pre-selected: one for a recurring monthly donation, and one for an additional contribution on a specific date in the near future.

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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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