Where are they now? Steven Leath edition

A contact recently asked what Steven Leath is up to lately. Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers will recall this site’s extensive coverage of the scandal regarding the Iowa State University president’s misuse of state-owned aircraft. Leath resigned as ISU president in March 2017 to accept a position as president of Auburn University in Alabama. However, that university’s trustees agreed in June 2019 to pay Leath $4.5 million to walk away from the job two years into a five-year contract. He is due to collect the last of three $1.5 million payments this July.

While Leath was still at Auburn, President Donald Trump appointed him to the National Science Board, a body that advises Congress and the presidential administration on matters related to science or engineering. His term will expire in May 2024. Leath walked then-candidate Trump across the field before the Iowa/Iowa State football game in September 2015, a controversial act he said was not meant as an endorsement. He has long been friendly with Donald Trump, Jr., with whom he sat during the Iowa State men’s basketball “Sweet Sixteen” game in Madison Square Garden in March 2014.

The younger Trump and Leath share an interest in hunting, which is the focus of the former university president’s newest position. The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports announced in October that Leath would serve as the organization’s executive director, beginning January 1, 2021. How much he will earn in that job is not clear; available tax returns indicate the nonprofit has been paying a firm owned by the council’s CEO between $186,139 and $193,584 annually for “general management services.”

In late 2017, Leath sold the Hardin County land he had purchased the previous year, with the help of a company run by then Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. He still has at least one formal connection to Iowa, though, as an advisory council member for the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines.

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Seven ways Mary Mosiman helped bury ISU's airplane scandal

A year ago this week, State Auditor Mary Mosiman released the findings from her office’s only examination of the wide-ranging scandal surrounding former Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s use of university-owned airplanes.

To say the self-styled “taxpayer’s watchdog” failed to properly investigate Leath’s personal trips on the taxpayer’s dime would be an understatement.

Mosiman did not try to find out how many times Leath misused ISU’s airplanes or how much his personal travel cost the university. Because the auditor looked the other way, Iowans will never know the scope of a top official’s misconduct at a large public institution.

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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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The 17 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2017

Since I started writing for this website a decade ago, I’ve never worked harder than I did in 2017. This momentous year in Iowa politics provided an overwhelming amount of source material: new laws affecting hundreds of thousands of people, our first new governor since 2011, and a record number of Democrats seeking federal or statewide offices.

In addition, my focus has shifted toward more topics that require time-consuming research or scrutiny of public records. As I looked over the roughly 420 Bleeding Heartland posts I wrote this year, I realized that dozens of pieces were as labor-intensive as some of those I worked hardest on in 2015 or 2016.

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