Ethics board: Iowa candidates can't use campaign funds for child care

Iowa candidates seeking to use campaign funds to cover child care expenses are out of luck unless the state legislature and governor expressly allow the practice. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted 5-1 at a July 13 meeting for an opinion stating, “We do not believe Iowa law clearly allows campaign funds to be used for a candidate’s childcare expenses related [to] campaigning. We believe this issue is a policy decision best left to the legislature.”

The Federal Election Commission determined in May that Congressional candidates “may use campaign funds” to pay for child care expenses that “would not exist irrespective” of the campaign. Soon after, state House candidate Reyma McCoy McDeid, a single mother of a three-year-old, requested an advisory opinion on the matter from Iowa’s campaign regulator.

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Three Iowa Supreme Court finalists, in their own words

After eight years as an all-male club, the Iowa Supreme Court will soon gain its third ever woman justice.

Members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission submitted three names to Governor Kim Reynolds on July 10: District Court Judge Susan Christensen of Harlan, private attorney Terri Combs of West Des Moines, and District Court Chief Judge Kellyann Lekar of Waterloo. Within the next 30 days, Reynolds must choose one of those women to replace retiring Justice Bruce Zager.

Follow me after the jump for highlights from each finalist’s application and remarks before the commission.

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Iowa Senate district 49 preview: Patti Robinson vs. Chris Cournoyer

When Fred Hubbell selected State Senator Rita Hart as his running mate, Democrats had to scramble to find a new candidate in Iowa Senate district 49. Patti Robinson announced her candidacy on July 3. She will face Republican Chris Cournoyer, who has been campaigning here since last November.

Hart was favored for re-election, having won by nearly 900 votes in 2014 despite the statewide GOP landslide. However, an open seat should be highly competitive. Both parties may devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to this race, based on spending totals from the battleground Iowa Senate districts during the 2016 cycle.

Democrats are looking at a difficult state Senate map this year and can’t afford to lose any ground to maintain a realistic chance of regaining the majority in 2020. Republicans currently hold 29 of the 50 Senate seats and will pick up Senate district 1, where Iowa’s only independent lawmaker David Johnson is retiring.

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How Iowa's 20-week abortion ban could be overturned

Pro-choice advocates were jubilant about the Iowa Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down a major section of a 2017 anti-abortion law.

However, the other major piece of that law remains in effect: a near-total ban on abortions beyond 20 weeks “post-fertilization.” Speaking to reporters on June 29, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis asserted the 20-week ban is “clearly unconstitutional and a violation of women’s fundamental rights.” She declined to say whether the ACLU will challenge that provision: “We don’t forecast our litigation strategy.”

Although I am not an attorney, I am a third-generation supporter of reproductive rights in Iowa. So I’ve been thinking about how a case could get the 20-week ban before the Iowa Supreme Court.

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Fifteen women, seven men apply for Iowa Supreme Court vacancy

Federal courts will be lost for a generation as an avenue for protecting civil liberties, now that President Donald Trump will be able to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in addition to stacking district and circuit courts with dozens of right-wing ideologues. (Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield and Eighth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton were on the list of 21 possible Supreme Court picks Trump released during the 2016 campaign.) The growing conservative grip on the federal courts means more and more important legal battles will be fought at the state level.

Governor Kim Reynolds will fill an Iowa Supreme Court vacancy later this year, after Justice Bruce Zager retires. Today the judicial branch published the applications for fifteen women and seven men who are seeking to replace Zager.

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3 hopes for Des Moines Register chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel

The Des Moines Register made it official this week: Brianne Pfannenstiel will move up to the chief politics reporter job after three years covering the statehouse. She is best-known for writing about alleged sexual misconduct by State Senator Nate Boulton; that article quickly ended his campaign for governor. It was a tricky story to report, and Pfannenstiel handled the material well. Another huge scoop was her June 2017 investigative report on delayed state tax refunds.

Pfannenstiel impressed me during her first year at the Register, when she had the news sense to write multiple pieces about the most under-covered major Iowa politics story of 2015. Some experienced statehouse reporters failed to recognize the significance of an unprecedented move to enact a new sales tax break without legislative approval. That policy change turned out to be far more costly than officials had projected, contributing to state revenue shortfalls in subsequent years.

I’m looking forward to watching Pfannenstiel apply her detail-oriented approach to her new beat. As she turns her attention to campaigns and elections, I hope she will:

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