Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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Are Bruce Rastetter and the Iowa GOP laying a trap for Tom Harkin?

(I'm skeptical than any prominent Republican would want to take on Harkin this year, but this diary has original research and is worth promoting. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

A number of signs indicate that Rastetter has been be quietly gearing up for a campaign for quite awhile. His involvement in Iowa Future Fund, the shady 501(c)(4) that ran anti-Culver ads, was my first clue. (I first posted about Rastetter and IFF/IPP at Bleeding Heartland here.)

Another clue was that someone privately registered “brucerastetter.com” and “brucerastetter.org” in early December 2007. 

An even bigger clue was that Rastetter hired Nicholas T. “Nick” Ryan in January 2007. Ryan had just come off a stint as campaign manager for Jim Nussle's failed gubernatorial bid.

Bruce Rastetter is CEO of  Hawkeye Energy Holdings, Iowa's largest ethanol producer and the third largest in the nation. In September, the Cyclone Conservative commented that “a Rastetter candidacy would also be attractive because Rastetter would carry a tremendous amount of gravitas on renewable fuels and agriculture issues.”

CC also speculated that Rastetter's $1.75 million gift to Iowa State University was a political ploy to garner favorable publicity for Rastetter, the candidate. Sounds plausible to me.

If Rastetter runs, Iowa Dems can expect an enormous amount of money to be poured into his campaign, both on and off the books. The  probable reason for the secrecy about Rastetter's intentions is to catch Tom Harkin and Iowa Dems off guard about how stiff Harkin's competition will be in terms of the candidate and money.

Richard O. Jacobson, founder of Jacobson Companies, is chairman of Hawkeye Energy. Jacobson kicked in $50k to Nussle in '06.

Rastetter is very close to Peter M. Castleman, chairman of J. H. Whitney & Company, a private equity firm based in Connecticut. Rastetter is also linked to Whitney partner, Russell Stidololph, through Altenergy LLC. Nick Ryan uses nryan@alternergyllc.com

Thomas H. Lee Partners, a Boston private equity firm, has a majority stake in Hawkeye Energy. Expect financial support for Rastetter from the THL partners.

At one point, Rastetter and his partners at J. H. Whitney planned to make a $200 million investment in Iowa wind farms but not much as been mentioned about it recently. I am particularly curious about the wind farms because I read yesterday that T. Boone Pickens is investing $10 billion to create a chain of wind farms that stretches from Texas through the Great Plains. 

If Pickens is behind Rastetter, Iowa Dems are in big trouble. In 2004, Pickens contributed $1 milion to Swift Boat Vets and $2.5 million to Progress For America, another 527, that raised $48 million. The DCI Group, the premier Republican slime shop, was behind PFA.  

I strongly suspect that Iowan, Brian Kennedy, is managing Iowa Future Fund/Iowa Progress Project. Kennedy, a DCI Group exec, is co-founder of PFA. More on the link between the DCI Group, the Iowa Future Fund and its affiliate, the American Future Fund here.

Kennedy made a failed primary bid for an Iowan congressional seat in 2006. He is also the former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.   

The brucerastetter.com website lists 400 Locust Street, Suite 330, Des Moines, IA 50309 as its address. I checked the online phonebook and couldn't find an organization specifically listed in Suite 330 but I did find Summit Capital Group at Suite 480.

Summit Capital, a Rastetter company, is the one that employs Nick Ryan. Although Ryan claimed he was first employed by Summit Capital in January 2007, Summit Capital was only registered with the Iowa Secretary of State on February 21, 2007.

The Arag Group, curiously enough, is also listed at 400 Locust St, Suite 480.

That's it for me and Bruce Rastetter for the moment but first a question. If I am right about Rastetter running, did Rastetter violate any campaign laws by raising money without declaring his candidacy? Me, I'd go after Rastetter with a chainsaw if I were an Iowa Dem.

(Crossposted at TPM Cafe)  

Update: As senateguru noted in the comments, the deadline to register for the June senate primary has passed. But let's take a look at the candidates who did register: George S. Eichhorn, Christopher Reed and Steve Rathje.

Steve Rathje is the only candidate to register his campaign committee with the FEC. Since he registered in September 2005, he has raised $123k which came mostly from relatives, friends and Rathje personally. At 3/31/08, Rathje had a whopping $7k in cash on hand.

Compare Rathje's fundraising to that of Harkin's 2002 opponent, Greg Ganske. At 3/31/02, Ganske had $1.3 million in cash on hand and had spent $800k in the first quarter of 2002 alone. Ganske ultimately spent a total of $5 million vs Harkin's $8 million.

Interesting that Rathje's website is on the National Republican Party's server of choice, Smartech. Smartech was host to the off-record email accounts of many White House staffers and many of the so-called “missing” emails went through Smartech's servers.

Conventional Iowa wisdom is that the Republicans won't run a strong candidate against Harkin but this field of candidates is so pathetic, it lends strength to my argument that Rastetter could very well make a surprise run. I just don't know enough about election law to know if it is doable.  What if all three primary candidates dropped out?

If anyone can tell me more about Harkin's likely opponent, I'd appreciate it. I'd appreciate it even more if anyone knows how the prospective candidate will raise a few million bucks to run a respectable race.   

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Iowa Progress Project is the new Iowa Future Fund!

(Thanks to Mrs. Panstreppon for researching this subject and keeping us up to date.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Late yesterday, Dave Kochel issued a press release announcing the formation of Iowa Progress Project, a 501(c)(4) which will replace Iowa Future Fund. Iowa Future Fund is the mysterious organization running anti-Chet Culver ads. Iowa Progress Project is so new, it was only registered with the Iowa Secretary of State on 4/10/08.

Why Iowa Progress Project? Because it is similar to Iowa Policy Project, a respectable undertaking. Iowa Future Fund was the name of a lapsed Iowa Democratic PAC. In 2006, Republican operative Roger Stone sent out pro-Rick Santorum campaign mailers to Pennsylvania voters using Progressive Policy Council which was very similar to the left-leaning Progressive Policy Institute. 

Replacing Iowa Future Fund with Iowa Progress Project might be a direct response to recent questions here in Bleeding Heartland and elsewhere in the blogospehere as to whether wealthy Iowan businessman, Bruce Rastetter, funded IFF.

Bruce Rastetter is president of Hawkeye Renewables which owns and operates four ethanol plants in Iowa. He also is invested in the wind energy industry. From what I have learned so far, Rastetter is partners with some very wealthy private investors on the East Coast through AltEnergy LLC, located in Royaton, Connecticut. Russell Stidolph, head of AltEnergy, has been operating in Iowa since at least 2003 and probably provided the financial backing for Hawkeye Renewables.

Nicholas T. “Nick” Ryan, Jim Nussle's long time campaign manager, now works for Bruce Rastetter. Ryan  is somehow connected to AltEnergy LLC and uses the email address, nryan-at-altenergyllc.com. Ryan's p.o. box was listed on an American Future Fund ad buy in Minnesota.

From the IPP website

“Des Moines, IA — Iowa Progress Project announced today its formal organization and outlined its goals and objectives in the near and long-term.

President David Kochel said, “Iowa Progress Project is the direct result of the response thousands of Iowans have had to ads and issues highlighted by the Iowa Future Fund. While the Iowa Future Fund has been very effective at highlighting important issues in our state, what was also abundantly clear is that a grassroots-centered conservative issues organization is also needed in this state. IPP will provide citizens from all corners of Iowa a voice in their community and state.”

IPP announced the following Board of Directors for the organization:

President: David Kochel
Director: Kathy Pearson
Director: Gary Grant

Gary Grant is possibly the vice-president of Public Affairs Co.

Kathy Pearson is possibly the former president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women and the president and sole employee of Kaas Employment Services in Cedar Rapids.

I'm not an Iowan but I am interested in IFF and IPP because they are linked to a well-organized national Republican program to misuse 501(c)(4)s during the upcoming election. 501(c)(4)s do not have to disclose their donors and can accept unlimited contributions.

American Future Fund and Iowa Future Fund were registered on 8/7/07 by top Republican operatives at Holtzman Vogel, a Virgnia law firm. AFF has been running pro-Norm Coleman ads in Minnesota and the Dems there have already filed an FEC complaint.

In the comments section of a TPM Cafe post about another Republican 501(c)(4), we are working out who, besides Bruce Rastetter, is behind American Future Fund.

I'll keep you posted!

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