Fact Checker: Monica Vernon and donations from developers
“Vernon made a habit of doling out deals for developers who donated to her campaign.”
Source of claim: “Must be Nice” ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee now airing in Eastern Iowa.
The ad claims Monica Vernon — a former Cedar Rapids City Council member running as a Democrat against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Blum — cut favors to developers who donated to her campaign.
The NRCC gives several examples.
One is Vernon’s connection to the Frew Development Group and its president, John Frew.
Federal Election Commission filings show Frew donated $500 to Vernon’s campaign in June 2013, a few weeks before she voted with a council majority to hire Frew Development Group to manage renovation of the city’s Ground Transportation Center.
Another example cited is Vernon’s support for an agreement with developers for a Cedar Rapids casino in 2013. That agreement unanimously passed the council with Vernon’s support. About two months before that vote, one of the main developers for the casino, Drew Skogman, donated $1,000 to Vernon’s failed 2013 congressional bid, according to FEC Filings.
Skogman and Frew also supported other members of the Cedar Rapids City Council around the time of the cited votes. The 2013 campaigns of Mayor Ron Corbett and council member Justin Shields each received donations connected to Frew and Skogman. Skogman donated, at one time or another, to all the 2013 council members except Kris Gulick and Don Karr Jr.
Neither Skogman nor Frew donated to all of the campaigns of council members who voted for their cited projects.
The NRCC points to similar votes and campaign donations from developers with Frantz Hobart Investors, Hunter Companies and Ahmann Companies, all of which secured tax breaks or development agreements from the city with Vernon’s support.
In all of the council votes the NRCC cites, Vernon was not the deciding vote in approving the agreement or tax break for a future or former donor’s project.
The Fact Checker also found at least one example of Vernon voting against a project from a developer who donated to her campaign.
In February 2015, the City Council rejected two proposals to redevelop the Knutson Building. One of the proposals came from Hobart Historic Restoration.
Despite Vernon voting against the proposal, Jim Hobart, with Hobart Historic Restoration and Frantz Hobart Investors, donated $250 to Vernon’s campaign a month later.
The crux of the ad is whether Vernon cut political favors in exchange for campaign donations.
“It sure pays to be Monica Vernon and her friends,” the ad says in setting the context.
The NRCC’s examples show Vernon supported projects of developers who also donated to her political campaigns. That gives the ad factual accuracy in its claim.
But the practice of developers supporting pro-development politicians isn’t new. And there is no evidence in the ad that Vernon practiced pay-for-play politics — that is, demanding campaign donations in exchange for favorable votes.
The facts cited and the context given in the ad don’t quite mesh. That’s why the ad drops to a C.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fact Checker was researched and written by KCRG-TV9’s Adam Carros.