Iowa Politics Roundup: Culver Attacks Branstad with First Ad of General-Election Campaign Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 18 June 2010 09:55

Governor Chet Culver's campaign has launched its first ad of the general-election season, and it's aimed directly at Republican gubernatorial nominee and former Governor Terry Branstad.

The ad, called "Cooked," focuses on former Republican State Auditor Richard Johnson's assertion that Branstad "cooked the books" and "kept two sets of books." The ad also says: "Branstad doubled state spending, raised the state's sales tax, raised the gas tax, [and] even wanted to tax Social Security."

The ads are the first Culver has run since November 2009, when he ran ads called "Balanced Budget" and "Stronger Than Ever" that focused on state spending and recovering from the 2008 floods and the national recession.

Branstad campaign manager Jeff Boeyink defended Branstad's record and said the ad offers no positive vision for the future.

"During the primary, the attacks by Chet Culver's friends didn't work, so I don't know why he thinks they would work now," Boeyink said, referring to the group Iowans for Responsible Government. "Where is the vision? He has no plan for jobs. He has no plan for balancing Iowa's budget. He offers no plan for moving Iowa forward."

Culver's campaign fired back by saying the Branstad campaign's response shows that it can't deny the claims in the ad. Culver campaign spokesperson Ali Glisson also said Culver has balanced the budget.

"The Branstad campaign subscribes to the adage that if you repeat a lie often enough people, will believe it," Glisson said. "Branstad continues to campaign in the same dishonest way he governed. He cannot deny the documented facts in the Culver ad. Likewise, he offers no proof for his misstatements of the Culver record. The people of Iowa cannot trust Branstad; they do not want to go back to the two sets of books and deficit-spending ways of his tenure as governor."

Feds Say State Misspent More Than $500K in HAVA Money

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) approved nearly $2 million of the $2.6 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money spent mainly during Chet Culver's time as secretary of state and questioned in a September 2009 federal audit, leaving $575,729 that it said was misspent.

Some key findings regarding Iowa's HAVA spending between April 2003 and April 2008:

  • Polling-place accessibility. A Department of Inspector General audit had questioned $369,740 that Iowa spent in HAVA money to help counties make polling places accessible because Iowa did not obtain EAC approval to spend the money on capital improvements. But the EAC said: "We do not agree that this set of accessibility grants constituted capital improvements nor that prior approval from EAC was needed for these expenditures. We accept the $369,740 in expenditures to make polling places accessible."
  • Marketing. The commission determined that Iowa must repay $14,000 it used for 30-second radio ads urging people to vote. The EAC does not allow "get out the vote" activities and related costs under HAVA.
  • Sole-source contracts. The inspector-general audit and the 2006 Single Audit questioned all costs associated with sole-source procurements by Iowa's secretary of state. More than $1.2 million in sole-source awards were not fully documented in terms of reasonableness of negotiated contract fees or why the particular contractors were selected. The commission approved $245,433 of the questioned spending with the State Public Policy Group but disallowed $443,505. It also disallowed the full $118,224 spent on "Celebrate Voting," which marked the 40th anniversary of voting rights and the legacy of voting rights in Iowa. The EAC allowed the full $276,241 that had been questioned for Iowa State University, and $182,558 that had been questioned for the Woodbury County auditor.

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Matt Strawn asked where the state will find the $576,000 to repay the funds.

Culver said the state will not repay the remaining $575,729 now but will instead continue to challenge it. The state has until December to resolve the issue.

Pawlenty Registers Committee in Iowa

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has formed political action committees in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states expected to hold the first 2012 presidential-nominating contests, to help him raise money for candidates this year.

Freedom First PAC-Iowa was registered in Iowa on June 10, said Charlie Smithson of the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board. The statement registering the PAC says its purpose is "to support the election of candidates with similar viewpoints." The PAC's chair is listed as Tim Owens of St. Paul, Minnesota, while the treasurer is Mark Havlicek of Clive and the parent entity is the federal Freedom First PAC. A checking account for Freedom First PAC-Iowa has been opened at BB&T bank in Alexandria, Virginia.

While the move is expected to be aimed at this November's election, Pawlenty has also visited Iowa twice in the past year -- once last November to headline the Republican Party of Iowa's fall fundraising dinner at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and again in April to speak at Iowans for Tax Relief's taxpayer day event -- further raising speculation about him building toward a bid for the White House in 2012.

During his April visit, Pawlenty said his federal political action committee, Freedom First, would be making endorsements in Iowa races this election cycle.

And in November, Pawlenty said: "My focus is on the 2010 elections, I've been trying to help in Minnesota and across the country, get more Republicans elected through the Republican Governors Association, [of] which I'm vice chair. But also, as time allows, I'm going to try to help other candidates who support Republican conservative principles."


Culver Promises Vigorous Campaign

Saturday's state Democratic convention featured key speeches by top-of-the-ticket candidates Culver and U.S. Senate nominee Roxanne Conlin, who along with U.S. Senator Tom Harkin touted Democratic successes to more than 500 delegates and worked to rev up the party faithful in advance of the summer and fall campaign.

"Who needs sleep? Sleep just makes you groggy," Culver said to fellow Democrats in his speech accepting their nomination for governor. "I promise you a vigorous campaign. I will give it everything I've got every day to make sure that we're successful, to make sure on November 2 that we protect our Democratic values, that we protect our Iowa values of civil rights and human rights and workers' rights and women's rights and rural Iowa's rights. We need to stand up and fight for 140 days."

Culver reiterated the themes outlined in his 41-county tour announcing his re-election. He said the election is a choice between continuing the progress that Democrats have made -- in areas such as the minimum wage, preschool, and stem-cell research -- and going back to the 20th century.

"I don't know about you, but not on my watch. We're not going back to the '80s. We are going to keep this state moving forward," Culver said. "We are not going to let Terry Branstad pull the plug on progress in Iowa."

Republican state-party chair Strawn quickly delivered a response. "Iowans cannot afford another four years of Chet Culver's failed leadership," he said. "I'm confident that Iowans will reject the Culver record of job losses, generational debt spending, rising property taxes, and widespread executive mismanagement."

The convention represented Conlin's first major speech since easily winning a three-way race for the Democratic nomination earlier this month. She thanked former opponent Bob Krause for running an issues-oriented campaign but did not acknowledge former opponent Tom Fiegen, who had launched numerous attacks at Conlin during the campaign.

But Conlin's speech focused on her race against incumbent U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, whom she called a career politician.

"We have earned the right to run against Senator Grassley and run against him we will. He will have the race of his life," Conlin said. "He has been in the United States Senate for 30 years. ... It's up to us to persuade Iowans that three decades is really long enough. We believe that Senator Grassley deserves a rest."

Conlin said voters can't continually elect the same man and expect a different result. She claimed Grassley (who is head of the Senate Finance Committee) turned billions of dollars in surplus into a deficit. She said Grassley reduced taxes for those who already have the most. And she said he deregulated the environment, and this week tried to prevent re-regulation of the oil companies despite the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Every morning we get up, every morning we look at that disaster, and every morning we should point to Senator Grassley and say, 'Why? Why, Senator Grassley, would you let this happen to our country?'" Conlin said.

A few hours later, Grassley campaign manager Bob Renaud responded: "Making such an absurd and unfounded claim that Chuck Grassley is responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when she herself has some of her millions of dollars in personal wealth invested in an ownership interest in Transocean, the very company that was responsible for the equipment that caused the leak, is a new low. Once again, Roxanne Conlin has put her personal hypocrisy on display at the Iowa Democratic Convention."

King Comments Draw Rebuke from Colorado Politicians

Colorado congressional candidate Cory Gardner has canceled a $100-a-head fundraiser with U.S. Representative Steve King (R-Kiron) after the Iowan made controversial comments suggesting that President Obama favors blacks over whites.

In discussing Arizona's immigration law, King said on G. Gordon Liddy's radio program that "the president has demonstrated he's got a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race -- on the side of it favors the black person."

King's comments were distributed by PoliticalCorrection.org, which also distributed a video of King saying on the House floor Monday night that profiling is an important component of law enforcement. However, King also said he thinks it's wrong to use racial profiling to discriminate against people.

King later criticized Gardner and Northern Colorado Tea Party director Lesley Hollywood for canceling his scheduled appearances and said he still planned to go to Colorado on Saturday, according to a Colorado newspaper.

"I have spoken with her and Cory Gardner both, and neither one of them disagreed with what I said or the position I have taken," King told the Coloradoan.

The Gardner campaign canceled a planned weekend fundraiser featuring King after learning about King's comments on the radio show. Hollywood also canceled King's scheduled appearance at a Saturday rally in Loveland, Colorado, because she said his remarks didn't fit with Tea Party values.

King maintained that he will travel to Colorado on Saturday, even though his invitations were rescinded. He also stood by his claim that the Obama administration makes policy decisions based on race, "favoring the minority over somebody else."

Democratic Fifth Congressional District candidate Matt Campbell said: "When you look at the history of Mr. King's statements, it reflects a pattern," Campbell said. "Instead of focusing on moving America forward, King is busy making polarizing statements. Comments such as these are why I'm running against Steve King for new leadership in Iowa's Fifth District."

Campbell also highlighted the reactions from GOP and Tea Party members: "This shows that individuals on both sides of the aisle take issue with King's comments."

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. Reporter Andrew Duffelmeyer and other correspondents contributed to this report.