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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Some county treasurers have flouted Iowa gift law for years

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.

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Ethics board investigating pro-Republican law-breaking in Iowa House race

A pro-Republican mailing to thousands of Warren County households last month was not only sleazy, but also unlawful.

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will investigate who paid to send a letter attacking Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth “to every mailbox in Iowa House district 26” and “what campaign finance laws were violated in the process.”

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Iowa lawmaker allowed to use campaign funds to rent building he owns

State Representative Mike Sexton may continue to spend $400 each month in campaign funds to rent part of a building he owns, Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board executive director Megan Tooker has determined.

As Bleeding Heartland reported in August, Sexton stored campaign materials for free at his home for nearly two years after re-entering political life. While running for re-election to Iowa House district 10 in 2016, the Republican lawmaker began renting space for his campaign in one of two commercial buildings he and his wife had recently purchased. As of July 2018, the real estate company registered by Rebecca Sexton had received a total of $11,200 from the campaign.

I brought the matter to Tooker’s attention because although an administrative rule allows the use of campaign funds for office expenses, including rent and utilities, I had never seen an Iowa lawmaker or legislative candidate spend so much for that purpose. I questioned whether $400 per month reflected the fair market value for storage and office space in Calhoun County, as required by Iowa law. In addition, I thought the campaign expenditures might be construed as delivering a “personal benefit,” since the payments would either supplement the Sextons’ household income or cover part of the contract on the couple’s real estate investment.

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Smithson leaving ethics board to be Iowa House chief clerk

Politics-watchers from both sides of the aisle welcomed yesterday’s news that Charlie Smithson will be the new Iowa House chief clerk:

Smithson has been the Executive Director for the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board since 2001 and the board’s attorney since 1998. He previously served as the attorney for the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Raised in Pocahontas, Iowa, Smithson graduated from WestmarCollege in Le Mars before earning a Juris Doctorate from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas.

Smithson has lectured and written several articles on government, ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance as well as contributed to the book,” Money, Politics, and Campaign Finance Reform Law in the United States.” He also teaches election law at the Drake University Law School in Des Moines.

The chief clerk serves as the House Parliamentarian, supervises House personnel and oversees the budget for the lower chamber’s operations.

Smithson will be a tough act to follow at the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Kathie Obradovich commented,

Smithson has capably led as executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and has the right personality and reputation for fairness to have immediate credibility in the clerk’s role.

What I’m sorry about is that he won’t be at the ethics board any more. He’s been unfailingly knowledgeable, competent and accessible in a very important role. We can only hope his successor has as strong of an interest in transparency and public access to campaign records. I’m also going to miss Mark Brandsgard, whose dry wit was often the only reward for listening to hours of mind-numbing House debate.

Brandsgard became chief clerk of the Iowa House in early 2009, having held various House staff positions since 1977.

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