# Money In Politics



The case of the missing Republican fundraising

Last week Democratic and Republican candidates for the Iowa legislature filed disclosure reports on their campaign contributions and expenditures. For most candidates, those reports covered the period from June 2 through July 14. For the few candidates who didn't file reports on the Friday preceding the June primary, the July 19 reports covered campaign fundraising and expenses between May 15 and July 14.

John Deeth posted cash-on-hand totals for candidates in most of the Iowa House and Senate battleground districts. The numbers are encouraging for Democrats, because our candidates lead their opponents in cash on hand in most of the targeted districts.

As I read through the July 19 contribution reports, I noticed something strange. Republican candidates in various targeted Iowa House and Senate districts reported improbably low fundraising numbers. As a general rule, candidates strive for impressive fundraising to demonstrate their viability, and cash on hand in July indicates which candidate will have more resources during crunch time. However, I got the impression that several of the Republican Iowa House and Senate candidates made little effort to obtain campaign contributions during the latest reporting period. Follow me after the jump for some examples and possible explanations.  

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Branstad and Culver release partial fundraising numbers

Yesterday Terry Branstad’s campaign released some information about its fundraising during the last three months of 2009. As I’d feared, they reported big numbers: nearly $1.55 million raised, with $1.36 million cash on hand left at the end of 2009. You can make a lot of contacts in four terms as governor, and Branstad’s campaign had 3,044 individual contributors, representing all of Iowa’s 99 counties. The campaign also noted that 94 percent of the money raised came from Iowans, and 96 percent came from individuals.

Governor Chet Culver’s campaign responded by announcing that it has $2.59 million on hand:

That total is over $1 million more than any incumbent governor has had at a similar point in their reelection cycle. […]

Over the past 12 months, the campaign received contributions from well over 1,000 donors, 85% of which are Iowa residents.  Additionally, more than half the contributions made to the campaign were for $250 or less.

Culver campaign manager Abby Curran told me that the total amount raised during 2009 was $2.145 million. She declined to tell me how much the campaign spent during the year, but it’s not hard to arrive at a ballpark figure. Last January, Culver’s campaign reported having about $1.5 million on hand. Adding $2.145 million to that and subtracting the $2.59 million the campaign has on hand now suggests that the governor’s campaign spent a little more than $1 million during the past year.

I’ve been concerned about the Culver campaign’s burn rate for a while. It appears that as in 2008, the campaign spent roughly half of what it took in during 2009. Presumably a lot of that money went toward running this statewide television ad in October and this one in November. I liked the ads, especially the second one, and I understand why they wanted to spread a positive message when the governor was going through a rough political stretch. But Culver and Jim Nussle raised about $15 million combined during the 2006 campaign, and this year’s race will be more expensive. The Democratic and Republican governors’ associations are likely to spend substantial money here (both organizations have a lot of money in the bank). Even so, Culver needs to raise a lot more money.

Another point of concern is that Branstad has more individual donors. If half of Culver’s donations were for $250 or less, then the overwhelming majority of his money came from donors giving several thousand dollars. Iowa has no campaign contribution limits, so there’s no reason these people couldn’t give again, but Culver has a smaller pool of past donors to tap. In my opinion this reflects the governor’s failure to build strong coalitions and deliver on various issues of importance to Democratic activists who supported Ed Fallon or Mike Blouin in the 2006 primary. The friction between him and organized labor hasn’t helped either.

The good news for Culver is that he can continue to build his war chest while Branstad is forced to spend a lot of money during the Republican primary.

Speaking of which, the other Republican candidates for governor haven’t released their fundraising numbers yet. They must file reports with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board by January 19, so we’ll know more next week. I assume State Representatives Chris Rants and Rod Roberts will have very little cash on hand, and Bob Vander Plaats won’t have nearly as much as Branstad reported. But Vander Plaats should be able to announce a credible number. At this point in the 2006 election cycle he had raised nearly a million dollars. Thanks to the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Vander Plaats received much more publicity among social conservatives nationwide last year than he had in 2005.

Any thoughts about the Iowa governor’s race are welcome in this thread.

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Pitiful settlement reached in nursing home neglect case

What happens when you fracture your ankle and no one checks on your wound or changes your stocking for 25 days? Ruth Louden, an otherwise healthy 89-year-old, developed gangrene, leading to the amputation of her leg. Her health went downhill quickly, and she died within months. Federal officials hit the Friendship Manor nursing home in Grinnell with a fine of $112,650. But the owner, Tim Boyle, appealed the fine and has settled for $75,397.

If management had brought Friendship Manor into compliance with all regulations on patient care during the past year, reducing the fine might be justified. But according to Clark Kauffman of the Des Moines Register, another patient died last year because of an accident linked to an unsafe walkway at the facility. That’s not all:

• In November, state inspectors compiled a 45-page list of deficiencies at the home, including:

• Improper use of physical restraints.

• Failure to meet a professional standard of care.

• Failure to provide incontinence care.

• Failure to prepare food under sanitary conditions.

• Failure to adhere to infection-control guidelines.

Current protocols for nursing home inspections and fines don’t appear to be compelling this facility’s managers to meet reasonable standards of care. It may be cheaper for owners to accept the occasional federal fine (after appealing to get it reduced) than to bring conditions up to par.

Iowa nursing homes have less to fear than ever from state regulators. During last year’s legislative session, lawmakers voted unanimously to eliminate “a broad range of fines against Iowa nursing homes that fail to meet minimum health and safety standards.” Friendship Manor owner Tim Boyle heads the nursing home industry’s main lobbying group, which provided a a textbook case of how to buy influence at the Iowa statehouse.

Even now, some Iowa legislators think regulators are too tough on nursing homes. What a sorry state of affairs in a state with one of the highest proportions of elderly people in the population.

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The Iowa legislature can't enforce its own disclosure rules

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against the Iowa Pharmacy Association, which entertained Governor Chet Culver and numerous state legislators in February but did not disclose the reception until after journalists started asking questions five months later. State Representative Kerry Burt, who attended the event, was arrested later that night for drunk driving. From an August 5 Iowa CCI press release:

Iowa CCI's initial research has uncovered 26 additional late-filing disclosure violations by lobbyist groups during the 2009 legislative session.  This amount represents nearly one-third of the 90 reports that were filed in 2009.

"Today we are focusing on the Iowa Pharmacy Association because its disclosure violation is the most egregious example of abuse of the law by special-interest lobbyists, particularly because they only filed after they were caught," [Iowa CCI's State Policy Organizing Director Adam] Mason said.

This emerging and growing political scandal raises new questions about the ability of the House and Senate Ethics Committees to accurately monitor and regulate these types of events.

In 2005, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the reported amount of money spent at lobbying events.

I called Mason today with more questions and learned that Iowa CCI filed the complaint with the secretary of the Iowa Senate and the chief clerk of the Iowa House. According to Mason, the Iowa House and Senate Ethics Committees cannot investigate this kind of disclosure violation in the absence of a complaint filed by a third party.

The trouble is, no third party would typically be in a position to set this process in motion. If not for Burt's bad judgment and bad luck, the public would never have known that the Iowa Pharmacy Association wined and dined policy-makers in February. Iowa CCI has been comparing the disclosure reports filed against the social calendar for legislators from the 2009 session, but Mason told me that not all details about entertainment offered to state legislators are available to the public. Some industry groups provide free travel, food or drinks to lawmakers when the legislature is out of session.

More disturbing, no one on the House or Senate Ethics Committees seems to be taking responsibility for enforcing the disclosure rules. In April, Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden admitted that no one checks the reception disclosures against the legislators' social calendar. The Des Moines Register reported at the time that Dearden "does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly."

Legislators should stop pretending to care about money in politics and start addressing real problems with our current system of campaign finance and lobbying. A good start would be to give oversight powers back to the State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

I've posted Iowa CCI's full press release after the jump.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to Jason Hancock's piece on this subject at Iowa Independent.

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Pharmacy group didn't disclose reception for governor, lawmakers

Groups that throw receptions for Iowa legislators are supposed to file a disclosure report within five business days of the event, but the Iowa Pharmacy Association filed paperwork for its February 10 reception only this week. Why now? Journalists have been asking about the event that preceded State Representative Kerry Burt's drunk driving arrest around 2 am on February 11. Burt told an Ankeny police officer that he'd been drinking with the governor that evening.

I agree with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; the Iowa Pharmacy Association's disclosure violation once again demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform. I've posted a press release from Iowa CCI after the jump. Excerpt:

Several years ago, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the amount of money spent at lobbying events.

"What other profession in the state is allowed to regulate themselves," asks Ed Rethman, Iowa CCI member from West Des Moines.  "Are doctors allowed to license themselves?"

The Des Moines Register reported in April that many interest groups are providing free food and drink to legislators without properly disclosing how much they spend on these events. Usually, the public never finds out about these events, because no one gets arrested afterwards.

Wining and dining legislators is only one of many ways to buy influence at the Iowa statehouse. Many interest groups hire expensive lobbyists. Some pay legislators' expenses for out of state trips. Then there's good old-fashioned contributions to political parties and campaign funds, which are unlimited in Iowa. These methods bury a lot of good ideas and get some bad ideas signed into law.

Meanwhile, what passes for campaign finance reform in the Iowa legislature is a joke.

Any suggestions for making progress on this issue are welcome in this thread.  

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Some things still run smoothly in Washington

Such as the revolving door between Congress and corporate lobbyists:

The nation’s largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures and other records. […]

Nearly half of the insiders previously worked for the key committees and lawmakers, including  Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and  Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), debating whether to adopt a public insurance option opposed by major industry groups. At least 10 others have been members of Congress, such as former House majority leaders Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), both of whom represent a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm.

The hirings are part of a record-breaking influence campaign by the health-care industry, which is spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying in the current fight, according to disclosure records. And even in a city where lobbying is a part of life, the scale of the effort has drawn attention. For example, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million.

So corporate groups are spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying to block a real public health insurance option, which most Americans want.

That’s on top of the millions of dollars the same corporate groups have donated directly to Congressional campaigns. Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industries with the most at stake in health care reform.

Members of Congress claim lobbyists and campaign money don’t shape their opinions, but Grassley should know better. He understands that big money from pharmaceutical companies can influence the conclusions of medical researchers–why not elected officials?

Nate Silver has found strong evidence that special-interest money affects Democratic senators’ support for the public option in health care reform.

By the way, I wasn’t too cheered by Senator Chuck Schumer’s promise over the weekend that the health care bill will contain a public option. The current draft in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions excludes lots of people from choosing the public option over their current health insurance. That will limit competition for the private insurers that have near-monopolies in many markets.

Back in 2003 all the Democratic presidential candidates talked a good game on health care. Now Dick “this is a moral issue” Gephardt is lobbying for a pharmaceutical company. I’ll stand with Howard Dean and hope that John Edwards was wrong about the system being rigged because corporations have too much power in Washington.

Final note: Moveon.org is organizing health care rallies this Thursday, July 9, at senators’ offices in their home states. Sign up here to attend a rally near you.

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