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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Iowa board approves formal probe of Heritage Action lobbying

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted on May 26 to authorize a formal staff investigation of possible undisclosed lobbying of Governor Kim Reynolds’ office by the conservative group Heritage Action for America.

The board’s executive director and legal counsel Mike Marshall had been informally investigating the matter after Mother Jones published video of Heritage Action’s executive director bragging about helping to write voter suppression laws in Iowa and other states. Jessica Anderson told donors at a private meeting in April that her group had “worked quietly” with Iowa lawmakers to help draft and support a new election bill, getting it passed with “little fanfare.” But the Washington, DC based organization, which is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, hadn’t registered a position on the bill or filed reports required of those who lobby state government.

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Iowa regulator investigating DC group's undisclosed lobbying

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is seeking further information on Heritage Action for America‘s efforts to lobby state government. The Associated Press was first to report on May 14 that the agency’s top staffer Mike Marshall asked Heritage Action’s executive director Jessica Anderson for details on her Iowa government contacts.

The previous day, leaked video showed Anderson bragging to Heritage donors that her group had “worked quietly” with Iowa lawmakers to help draft and support a new election bill, getting it passed with “little fanfare.”

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Sedgwick landed six-year, $7.9 million state contract with also-ran cost proposal

Des Moines freelance writer John Morrissey digs into how a well-connected company landed a lucrative state contract. Laura Belin contributed reporting to this story.

Four months after being awarded a contract to administer Iowa’s worker’s compensation program for state employees, a politically connected West Des Moines company has apparently not come to terms with the state to continue its work.

Sedgwick Claims Management Services LLC was selected in early March to keep handling the program, even though a competitor achieved a better score on three cost proposal items. The state will pay Sedgwick $7.9 million in administrative costs over six years. Runner-up bidder TRISTAR Risk Enterprise Management LLC offered to do the work for a little more than $6 million, a potential savings of nearly $1.9 million over the contract period.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services (DAS) provided copies of all submitted bids for the current and previous bid cycles upon receiving John Morrissey’s public records request. But the department has declined further comment about the award and refused to clarify the scoring system or other matters related to this bid process. The new DAS director Jim Kurtenbach did not respond to a request for an interview about this matter.

Sedgwick’s bid contact officer referred questions to several state officials and the company’s public relations office. That office also did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry.

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