Even Terry Branstad's admirers will tell you the man enjoys campaigning more than governing. He loves touring the state, speaking to groups, working a room. His wife says he's been "giddy as a schoolgirl" since becoming a candidate again. Sitting governors attend many official events that indirectly serve their re-election ambitions. It's one of the advantages of incumbency, and it's fair game.
Using the governor's office to raise campaign money and conduct campaign activities is a different story. That's what Branstad and his top staffers did during the 1980s and 1990s, according to several hundred pages of documents Governor Chet Culver's campaign released this week. I've posted the Culver campaign memo with highlights from the Branstad files after the jump. From the accompanying press release:
The documents illustrate how Branstad and members of his Administration participated in campaign fundraising, opposition research and candidate recruitment from the Governor's office.
Doug Gross, Branstad's Chief of Staff, was playing a key role in running the Republican Party of Iowa as well as Branstad's re-election campaign from his office at the Iowa State Capitol. Another member of Branstad's staff, Jerry Mathiasen, was helping run a Congressional campaign from the Capitol and coordinating the Republican Party's legislative campaigns. In addition, Branstad's State-Federal Relations Director, was spending his day working on selling fundraising dinner tables for the Republican Governors Association.
"This is part of clear pattern of dishonesty and scandal," said [Culver campaign manager Donn] Stanley. "Already during this campaign, Branstad has admitted that, for the majority of his tenure as Governor, the books were never balanced but what's worse is that by keeping two sets of books, he hid the truth about the state budget from Iowans. While today's information is new to Iowans, we already knew that, as Governor, he used the state plane for political purposes and held campaign fundraisers shortly after awarding donors multi-million dollar state contracts."
Whether this activity was illegal at the time or merely unethical is beside the point. Taxpayer dollars fund the salaries of the governor's staff. It is inappropriate to have the governor's staff doing campaign work for Branstad and other Republicans on the public's dime.
The Branstad campaign's response to this week's document dump was telling:
"Chet Culver and his campaign can spend their time wallowing in the past, while Terry Branstad is looking to the future and committed to open, honest and transparent government," [Branstad campaign manager Jeff] Boeyink said. "This attack is as sad and pathetic as Chet Culver's four years as governor."
So no denial, no apology, and no promise that Branstad's policy staff won't do campaign work in the future. We don't even get the "learned from my mistakes" line Branstad pulls out whenever someone challenges his dismal fiscal record.
Iowa State Professor Steffen Schmidt told the Des Moines Register, "If I were Branstad I'd probably sleep OK tonight." Schmidt views this treasure trove of documents as a sign that Culver "may not have too many really sharp angles to come at Branstad." I wouldn't be too sure about that. Culver campaign staffers have been going through about 1,000 boxes of material from Branstad's four terms in office. I doubt they would release all the best stuff before the Fourth of July. We've got a long way to go before November.
Final note: Culver's campaign raised the issue of Branstad's abuse of power in response to the Republican's latest tv ad, unveiled this week. The viewer sees clips from Branstad's rallies and hears Branstad tell the crowd: "We're all here for one reason: to give Iowans a government that is as honest, as hard-working, that is as good as the people of this state. To those communities fighting to stay alive, to the workers hunting for good jobs, to those families hoping for a better education for their kids, change is coming! For those Iowans who want honest, open and scandal-free government, change is coming! We did it before, and we can do it again!" If Branstad wants to campaign on "honest, open and scandal-free government," he should be prepared to defend his own record.
UPDATE: The Culver campaign released this statement on July 2:
DOES BRANSTAD BELIEVE HE IS TRULY ABOVE THE LAW?
3 DAYS AND NO RESPONSE ON EGREGIOUS MISCONDUCT
DES MOINES - Terry Branstad and his campaign must believe that he and his cronies are above the law because they have yet to admit that using the Governor's Office to further Branstad's own political ambitions instead of putting the people's work first is wrong.
"Branstad has yet to admit any wrong-doing or even promise the people of Iowa that he would avoid abusing the Governor's Office if elected again. Terry Branstad abused the power of the Governor's Office and it's time he admit culpability," Culver/Judge Communications Director Ali Glisson.
On Wednesday, the Culver/Judge Campaign produced 400 pages of documents showing that Branstad and his closest associates, including Doug Gross, abused the power of the Governor's Office. Branstad raised money for his campaigns and for the Republican Party of Iowa, using official state stationery, making fundraising calls, and used various staff and state resources for these efforts instead of working for the people of Iowa.
"What Branstad did is wrong and unethical. He put himself above the law and used state resources to further his own political agenda over any efforts to help the people of Iowa."
To see all 400 pages of documents released this week by the Culver/Judge Campaign, visit BranstadFacts.com.