AG Miller has to return a $50,000 campaign donation; Gov. Reynolds’ reelection fund surpasses $6 million

Official photos of AG Tom Miller and Gov. Kim Reynolds. Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Attorney General Tom Miller violated one of Iowa’s few laws regarding campaign contributions when he accepted $50,000 from the the Democratic Attorneys General Association, a national political action committee. It’s not the size of the contribution (Iowa doesn’t set a limit on political contributions) that was a problem, or that it came from an out-of-state organization (also fine under Iowa law). The problem was its timing.

Miller, who is running for an 11th term as Iowa Attorney General, accepted the donation last Friday, according to his campaign’s disclosure statement filed on Tuesday. As the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board (IECB) explains on its site, “a candidate for statewide or legislative office may not accept a contribution from a lobbyist or political committee (“PAC”) on any during the regular legislative session and in the case of a gubernatorial candidate, during the 30 days following the adjournment of a regular legislative session.”

Usually, the legislature concludes its business before the end of April, so a mid-May PAC contribution would be a routine matter. But this year’s session is still ongoing, even though almost nothing has happened — in public, at least — for several weeks.

The Des Moines Register noted the PAC contribution in its review of Miller’s latest campaign filing and contacted both the campaign and the ethics board.

Miller’s campaign director Jacob Hamblin told the Register’s Katie Akin the contribution was being returned. IECDB Executive Director Zach Goodrich told Akin this isn’t the sort of violation the board doesn’t act on.

“We seek more to help people comply with their reports, unless there is what I would consider an egregious violation. Here, it appears to be more of an oversight.”

Goodrich also said the board had been receiving calls from candidates about accepting PAC contributions as the legislative session continues to drag on.

The session hasn’t closed yet, because Gov. Kim Reynolds is still trying to pressure Iowa House Republicans into supporting her plan to divert public school funding to private schools, including religious ones that are permitted to discriminate against students and their families.

The governor’s plan to create “education saving accounts,” the most popular version of school voucher programs, is opposed by all House Democrats and enough Republicans to keep it from passing, even though it has already passed the Senate.

Reynolds has declared the reallocation of public school funds to private schools as one of her top priorities, and had been pushing it to parents groups as well as House Republicans as the Legislature remains largely idle, but is not allowed by its Republican leaders.

The governor’s plan lacks popular support overall, and faces pushback from rural school districts, who are concerned about a further loss of funds. It is reportedly rural Republicans in the Legislature that are opposed to it. On Wednesday, the governor continued her pressure campaign against those lawmakers, by taking the extraordinary step of endorsing a primary challenger running against a Republican incumbent.

As early voting began on Wednesday, Reynolds issued a written statement endorsing Barb Kniff McCulla of Pella, a business owner and first-time candidate, challenging incumbent Rep. Jon Thorup of Newton for the Republican nomination in Iowa House District 37.

“I am proud to endorse her and encourage Iowans in the district to get out and vote for her in the Republican primary on June 7,” Reynolds said.

Thorup, who is running for a third term in the House, is a state trooper, and normally Reynolds makes every effort to appear to be supportive of law enforcement officers. But Thorp is firmly opposed to the governor’s school voucher program.

“I think many people in rural Iowa are very concerned that that could mean the end of their small school districts at some point — not today, not tomorrow, but maybe five or 10 years down the road,” Thorup told the Register last week. “There’s just a lot of fear amongst even a lot of Republicans.”

Kniff McCalla, on the other hand, said in a statement, “I look forward to working with Gov. Reynolds to advance conservative legislation in Iowa and that includes cutting taxes, supporting law enforcement and promoting parental choice in education.”

“Promoting parental choice in education” is how the governor prefers to describe her plan to shift public school dollars to private schools.

Although there have been votes on budget bills in the Iowa Legislature this week, there is still no clear end date for the session. This is not a problem for the governor, who has no Republican challenger in her reelection race, and therefore no need to raise money for the June 7 primary . Reynolds also holds a substantial lead in fundraising over her Democratic opponent in November’s election, Deidre DeJear.

In January, the Reynolds campaign boasted about her 2021 fundraising, saying in a news release the governor had set new records “for most cash on hand ever reported by an Iowa statewide campaign and the most raised the year before an election.”

According to campaign finance disclosure forms, Reynolds raised approximately $3.8 million in 2021 and had almost $4.8 million on hand in January. DeJear raised $279,376 in 2021, and had $8,547 on hand in January.

In a news release on Thursday, the DeJear campaign said its fundraising had picked up this year.

“January 2022 was the campaign’s strongest fundraising month, but was soon surpassed by February and March, which were considerably larger,” the news release said. “During the reporting period from January 1-May 14, DeJear raised more than $740,000, a 165% increase from the last reporting period.”

The campaign noted that DeJear has now raised over $1 million.

According to the campaign finance disclosure forms the Reynolds campaign filed on Thursday, the governor raised $1.2 million during the same period. That brings the fundraising total for her 2022 campaign to more than $6 million.

As noted above, neither Reynolds nor DeJear will be able to accept any PAC donations until 30 days after the end of the legislative session.

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