Government

Rep. Rod Blum's firm offered to obscure FDA warnings

Congressman amends disclosure to show his interest in internet firm

Tin Moon’s website lists Rod Blum as a “majority shareholder” in the company
Tin Moon’s website lists Rod Blum as a “majority shareholder” in the company
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U.S. Rep. Rod Blum said it was an “administrative oversight” that he failed to report — as House ethics rules require — his financial interest in a Dubuque firm that claims it can bury derogatory information about a business in online search results.

The Republican congressman, whose 1st District consists of 20 northeastern Iowa counties including Linn, has amended the financial disclosure report with the House Ethics Committee. He said his stake in the company was not disclosed earlier “due to the company being basically worth less than $1,000 and not doing business in 2016.”

Blum’s relation to the company, Tin Moon Corp., and the ethics violation were first reported by the Associated Press.

Records reviewed by The Gazette show that Blum was one of two directors who incorporated Tin Moon in Iowa in May 2016. House members must file financial disclosure reports by May 15 each year, listing earnings, holdings and business transactions for the previous year. Additionally, all paid or unpaid positions — including director positions — must be listed on the report, according to the Ethics Committee’s disclosure requirements.

Blum’s report for activity in 2017, filed February 2018, should have detailed his position as a director for the internet marketing company. But it did not until he later made the amendment.

Tin Moon says on its website that it uses accepted “white hat” strategies to make positive news about a company appear first on online search results. The company generates, for instance, positive news releases to appear first in results — pushing negative information farther down, even to subsequent pages where consumers would be less apt to look.

Based on the website’s wording, it appears Tin Moon solicited potential clients who had received black marks from the federal government — in the example cited, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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“If you are reading this page,” it says, “you received a letter from us regarding moving your FDA warning letter off page one of search results.” The page goes on to say “we can help.”

Such warning letters often deal with violations found during inspections of facilities or websites of businesses subject to FDA regulations.

On Thursday, Tin Moon’s website lists the congressman as a “majority shareholder” in the company. The AP report said the company previously listed Blum as chief executive officer.

Under the Ethics in Government Act, failure to provide complete and accurate financial disclosures could be punishable by a fine of up to $57,847. However, a 2012 Ethics Committee report notes that 30 to 50 percent of financial disclosure reports contain some errors and require revision each year.

Tom Rust, the House Committee on Ethics staff director, declined Thursday to comment.

Blum argued that reactions to the AP report were “making a mountain out of a molehill for political gain.”

Blum faces reelection this year in a district that the Cook Political Report has deemed a toss up.

“This is yet another desperate, Democratic diversion originated from the career politicians in Washington, D.C., doing everything they can to make sure Nancy Pelosi is Speaker again,” Blum said in the statement. “As a career businessman, I’ll never understand Washington and their practice of the politics of personal destruction. While I regret this administrative oversight, I will not concede to the narrative that this is some sort of a scandal.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement questioning his ethics.

“As Congressman Rod Blum goes into overdrive to distance himself and downplay his role at the company, and scrub the Tin Moon website of his personal involvement and that of his Congressional staff, he must confront the ongoing allegations given his refusal to disclose his involvement with a company he owns, the potential harm his company’s work could have on Iowa families, and the massive potential conflict of interest it represents,” it said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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