Terry Branstad had taxpayers foot bill for Republican campaign work

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.

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New Culver ad starts conversation about Branstad's values

Governor Chet Culver’s campaign released a second television commercial spotlighting Terry Branstad’s record. Like the Culver tv ad that debuted last week, the new commercial mentions Branstad’s dismal record on fiscal issues. It also mentions eight pay raises that Branstad signed for himself, some of them during very tight budget years:

Transcript:

As Governor, Terry Branstad admitted “his books were never balanced.” According to the State Auditor, Terry “cooked the books.” And when state unemployment hit a record high, Branstad asked for a raise. When Terry cut foster care, Branstad took another raise. When the state couldn’t pay its bills, Branstad raised our taxes and raised his pay once again. Terry Branstad: Cooked books, Raised Taxes, Eight pay raises. A past we can’t repeat.

A Culver campaign press release with supporting facts and citations from news reports is after the jump.

We all know Branstad wasn’t a good manager of state finances, but I like the way this ad touches on his deeply flawed priorities as well. Branstad started seeking a pay raise during his very first year in office, when unemployment peaked at 8.5 percent. A few years later, this guy wasn’t ashamed to take home more money even as he was cutting foster care programs.

I hope future Culver ads will underscore how cutting state assistance to vulnerable Iowans has long been Branstad’s knee-jerk preference, rather than his last resort. The foster care cuts highlighted in Culver’s new commercial occurred in 1987. When Iowa faced a budget crisis in 1992, Branstad brought two money-saving ideas to a meeting with state lawmakers in advance of a special legislative session: first, cut spending on foster care, and second, cut Medicaid programs that helped children buy eyeglasses and keep senior citizens out of nursing homes. During this year’s campaign, when asked an open-ended question about how he would cut state government, Branstad

said he’s still looking for ideas but did mention reforming the state’s mental health system and rolling back Medicaid, which has been expanded to cover more people, including children. He said state employees should pay for their health insurance like private sector employees.

That’s classic Branstad. Gee, I haven’t figured out yet how to make the budget numbers add up, but why not change Medicaid so that fewer people qualify? While we’re at it, let’s stop helping tens of thousands of families send their four-year-olds to preschool.

Branstad’s record of incompetence should be at the center of the gubernatorial campaign, but let’s not forget about his skewed priorities.

UPDATE: Conservative blogger Gary Barrett claims the Culver ad distorts the facts on Branstad’s pay hikes. The Culver campaign released a response to Barrett’s post, which you’ll find after the jump.

The Branstad campaign cited a Des Moines Register report from 1982 on how Branstad didn’t want a pay raise and might veto such a bill. Culver’s campaign leaped on that as evidence Branstad “said one thing and did another on pay raises.”

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Culver ad: Branstad's record "not worth repeating"

Governor Chet Culver’s campaign launched its first television commercial of the general election:

Transcript:

When the Republican State Auditor says a Republican Governor ‘Cooked the books’ and “kept two sets of books”… you take notice.

As Governor Terry Branstad admitted, “the books were never balanced.”

The state was so broke they couldn’t pay their bills.

Branstad doubled state spending, raised the state’s sales tax, raised the gas tax, even wanted to tax social security.

Cooked books, deficit spending, increased taxes.

Terry Branstad, a record not worth repeating.

If Culver were in a stronger political position, he’d probably lead off with a commercial highlighting his own record–something like the ad his campaign briefly ran last fall. However, Branstad’s been above 50 percent in several recent polls, and that number needs to come down. Branstad has been offering Iowans an airbrushed version of his own record, and this commercial brings up what Branstad wants Iowans to forget. The Culver campaign presents supporting facts and background here.

After the jump I’ve posted the Branstad campaign’s reaction to this ad and the Culver campaign’s rapid response. Note that Branstad’s people are yet again lying about an alleged billion-dollar budget gap.

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Branstad launching statewide tv ads

Former Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign announced today that two television commercials will begin airing statewide on Monday, April 5. That’s two days before the first debate between the three Republican candidates for governor and about nine weeks before the June 8 primary.

The Branstad campaign will run this 60-second ad called “Ready”, which first aired during UNI’s NCAA basketball game last week, and this 30-second ad called “I Know Iowa.” The “Ready” ad intersperses Branstad’s campaign promises with testimonials about his character and talents. I can’t embed the 30-second ad here, but it features footage of Branstad with lots of different Iowans, as well as his campaign bus driving toward the state capitol building. The candidate himself does the voice-over for the shorter ad, and here’s my rough transcript:

Iowans are genuinely fearful and concerned, but also, people are hopeful. They know that we have the ability to come back. They’ve seen it done before. We can create 200,000 jobs. We can increase family incomes by 25 percent. We can reduce the size and cost of government, and we can make our education system the best in America. I love this state, and I love the people of this state, because I know given the opportunity, Iowans will always exceed expectations.

Both commercials convey the central theme of the Branstad campaign: he can lead Iowa out of tough times and back to greatness. I don’t see substance backing up Branstad’s campaign promises, but for the most part Iowa journalists are giving him a free pass. I question whether his Republican opponents will be able to make an effective case against him. Branstad probably will be the only candidate advertising on television for several weeks. It’s not clear that Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts have the resources to run even two weeks of commercials statewide. Vander Plaats has a stronger potential grassroots network given his experience with Mike Huckabee’s campaign and the support of the Iowa Family Policy Center, but Roberts seems to be competing for the same conservative voters Vander Plaats is targeting.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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Latest Iowa TV Ad from Governor Bill Richardson

In the last Democratic Presidential debate in Iowa, the Governor said it best:

“You know, I think that Senator Obama does represent change. Senator Clinton has experience. Change and experience: With me, you get both.”

Today we released a new television ad in Iowa called Offers. The spot
  emphasizes that Bill Richardson is the only candidate in the race who brings
  both change and experience to the Presidential race despite the fact that other
  candidates may be borrowing the phrase.

 

The ad recounts the Governor’s unparalleled experience and record of achievement in foreign policy. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times and recently helped negotiate the shutdown of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Our new ad also reinforces that Governor Richardson is the only major candidate with a detailed plan to get all US troops out of Iraq, leaving behind no residual  forces.

 

The latest Iowa poll by the American Research Group shows Governor Richardson at 13%, solidly in contention several months before the state's caucuses.

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