State bypassed standard procedures to settle sexual harassment case just days before last November’s election

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Dave Jamison — official Iowa Finance Authority photo

Shortly before last November’s election, state government officials bypassed normal procedures and quickly agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement of sexual harassment claims against a longtime friend and political ally of Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Associated Press’ Ryan J. Foley reported on Thursday.

Foley obtained correspondence between Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson and Paige Fielder, the attorney representing Beth Mahaffey. Mahaffey, the former business development director of the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA), who quit because of sexual harassment and other abusive behavior by then IFA Director Dave Jamison.

Mahaffey and IFA Communications Director Ashley Jared spoke directly to Reynolds in March 2017, detailing years of sexual harassment, racist comments and threats of retaliation by Jamison against anyone who complained about his behavior.

Reynolds fired Jamison just days after speaking to Mahaffey and Jared. Jamison had been a friend and supporter of Reynolds since the 1990s. He was appointed to his position at IFA by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011, one year after Jamison unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer.

In an Oct. 1 letter to Thompson, Fielder gave the state until Nov. 4 — two days before the general election — to agree to a $2.6 million settlement with Mahaffey. Polls at the time showed Reynolds in a close race with Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell. Reynolds had repeatedly boasted on the campaign trail about how quickly she took action by firing Jamison.

Fielder stressed in her letter that it “strains credibility” that Reynolds had been unaware of Jamison’s behavior before last March. Fielder wrote:

Frankly, it is hard to imagine that Governor Reynolds did not know what kind of man Dave Jamison was. By all accounts, the two had a very long, close friendship dating back decades. Jamison’s behavior is said to have been worse when he was out of town at conferences. Jamison and Governor Reynolds likely attended dozens — if not hundreds — of such conferences together over the years, and we will conduct extensive discovery concerning all of them.

The state’s normal procedure is to wait until a lawsuit is filed to reach a settlement with a plaintiff, but that didn’t happen in Mahaffey’s case.

On Nov. 1, Fielder emailed Thompson about moving up the deadline to accept the deal, stating that she intended to file the lawsuit the next day. Thompson replied quickly.

“Just got authority [from the Reynolds administration to settle] this morning. Yes really,” he said in an email. “Filing tomorrow could complicate matters since all discussions on my end have included concept that pre-litigation resolution was beneficial.”

Within weeks of Reynolds’ reelection, her administration had formally reached an agreement to pay a total of $4.15 million to settle the claims by both Mahaffey and Jared. The agreement, which paid $2.35 million to Mahaffey and $1.8 million to Jared, included a payment of $785,569 to Fielder’s law firm.

Both the governor’s office and the Office of the Iowa Attorney General, which includes the solicitor general, denied to the AP that there was anything inappropriate about their actions, and that no political calculations were involved.

Reynolds’ office told the AP that the settlements were in “the best interest of the state of Iowa, of taxpayers, and more importantly the victims.” The attorney general’s spokesperson used almost the exact same language in their reply to the AP.

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The settlements received final approval earlier this month from the State Appeals Board. The money for the settlements will come from an IFA fund designated to support affordable housing projects in the state.

The current director of the IFA said using agency funds to pay the settlements will not affect IFA programs.

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