Report: A top member of Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign was offering Iowa politicians money for endorsements

Tom Steyer speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. — Gage Skidmore

On Thursday, the presidential campaign of billionaire Tom Steyer denied it is attempting to buy political endorsements in Iowa, after Alexandra Jaffe of the Associated Press reported a top Steyer campaign aide had been privately offering Iowa politicians money for endorsements.

“Our campaign policy is clear that we will not engage in this kind of activity, and anyone who does is not speaking for the campaign or does not know our policy,” the Steyer campaign said in a written statement.

The California Democrat’s campaign did not, however, deny those offers had been made or dispute Jaffe’s reporting.

Several Iowa Democratic politicians told Jaffe that top Steyer campaign adviser Pat Murphy, a Democrat who served 12 terms in the Iowa House of Representatives before giving up his seat in 2014 to pursue an unsuccessful campaign for Congress, had privately told them Steyer would contribute to their campaign if they would endorse his long-shot presidential bid.

Murphy didn’t specify the dollar amount of the potential donations, but Iowa is one of only 11 states that has no limit on the amount a person can contribute to a political campaign.

“Tom has not made any individual contributions to candidates in Iowa this year, and he will not be making any contributions,” according to the Steyer campaign’s written statement.

The AP’s report comes just days after The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina reported a Steyer campaign aide in that state “stole valuable volunteer data collected by Kamala Harris’ campaign using an account from when he worked with the S.C. Democratic Party.”

In that case, the Steyer campaign said it never had possession of the data and had been unaware of the aide’s activity. The aide resigned after news of the theft broke.

There are no laws in Iowa that prohibit paying for political endorsements, and as long as the politician disclosed the payment on financial disclosure forms, it probably wouldn’t violate federal campaign laws. In 2012, three members Republican Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in Iowa tried to hide $73,000 in payments to then-state Sen. Kent Sorenson to secure his support in that year’s caucus.

Sorenson and three Paul staffers were all convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, multiple violations of campaign finance laws.

The Steyer campaign also issued a written statement in Pat Murphy’s name on Thursday. Murphy did not deny offering money to politicians.

“It was never my intention to make my former colleagues uncomfortable, and I apologize for any miscommunication on my part,” the statement said.

It’s not clear if Thursday’s revelation of Murphy’s activity will have any effect on Steyer’s effort to secure endorsements, because that effort was already a failure.

As Jaffe noted in her story, only two Iowa politicians have endorsed Steyer since he entered the 2020 race in July. One was Roger Thomas, a former member of the Iowa House of Representative. The other was Murphy.

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