Campaign bucks reflect our governor's values

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A Joe Biden quote has been getting a lot of mileage lately. “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” he said years ago.

The same can be said of campaign finance disclosures.

The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau’s Erin Murphy treated us to a feast of numbers last week from Gov. Terry Branstad’s finance filings. Turns out, by Murphy’s reckoning, the governor raised more than $18 million during his two-term comeback tour. You don’t get to be America’s longest-serving governor by being shy about asking your friends for money.

Much will be written about our governor as he departs for an ambassadorship in China. But those campaign reports already say plenty. They’re like a walk down memory lane.

There’s the $267,000 donated by Eldon and Regina Roth of Dakota Dunes, S.D., the state income-tax-free haven just over the border from Sioux City. That’s the most given by any individuals to the governor’s campaign committee.

The Roths founded Beef Products Inc. You might recall in March 2012 Branstad and his team raced to defend the company’s lean finely textured beef product, which had been derided in national media reports as “pink slime.” The administration launched an impressive, forceful counteroffensive, with plant tours, a rally, news conferences and strongly worded missives.

Don’t forget the “Dude, it’s Beef” T-shirts.

The fate of Iowa workers was at stake. So the governor sprang into action.

In recent weeks, the same governor has said he thinks the state’s minimum wage should be increased. Republican legislative leaders say no way. The fate of Iowa workers is at stake, and yet, Branstad hasn’t lifted a finger or expended an ounce of political capital to change leaders’ minds.

“Dude, it’s been a decade” T-shirts? Nope.

If only one of his big business donors wanted it.

When large businesses complained about the state’s workers’ compensation commissioner, Branstad moved fast to shove Chris Godfrey out the door. When the Senate-confirmed commissioner with years left on his term refused to go, Branstad slashed his salary. The price tag for the administration’s defense in the resulting lawsuit is approaching $1 million, according to the Des Moines magazine City View.

When MidAmerican Energy was displeased with an Iowa Utilities Board decision, Branstad shook up the board’s membership. Coincidentally, Greg Abel, chief of the Berkshire Hathaway energy unit that owns MidAmerican, has donated $82,500 to Branstad since 2010.

Iowa Health PAC, which represents health care facilities for the elderly, has donated $166,000 to Branstad. When The Des Moines Register discovered in 2016 lawmakers had tucked a provision into a broader human services spending bill allowing nursing homes and hospitals to receive a larger chunk of Medicaid cash, the governor pleaded ignorance. “We don’t know anything about that,” he told reporters. The governor later approved the provision.

On Dec. 13, after Branstad had been tabbed for the China post, Iowa Health PAC delivered one more $20,000 donation. Bon Voyage.

When manufacturers tired of waiting for the Legislature to deliver a pricey package of sales tax exemptions, Branstad’s administration tried to swiftly enact them through administrative rules. Among the first actions Branstad took as governor was an executive order prohibiting local governments from entering into project labor agreements with unions on projects receiving state funding.

The Associated General Contractors’ PAC donated $95,000 to Branstad’s campaigns. Iowa Industry PAC, the political arm of the Association of Business and Industry, chipped in $67,550.

Bruce Rastetter gave $239,000 to Branstad’s campaigns, including $140,000 during the 2010 campaign when Rastetter and other Republicans pleaded for a ‘stache comeback. Rastetter also made in-kind donations topping $8,000 covering campaign-related flights. Branstad, of course, appointed the agribusiness executive and major GOP donor to the Board of Regents, among the most powerful appointed positions in state government.

With the help of his business allies, Branstad was able to meet his goal of creating 200,000 jobs in Iowa, so long as you don’t count jobs lost. Minor adjustment.

For those constituencies not represented on those contributions lists, things have been less rosy. The poor and the sick, for example, have fared rather poorly as Branstad moved to unilaterally shutter mental health facilities, swiftly privatize Medicaid and close unemployment offices, replacing them with computer kiosks his administration later, quietly, shut down. The same year Branstad extolled the nutritional virtues of lean finely textured beef, he vetoed an appropriation for food banks.

Public employees got staffing reductions and then legislation gutting their bargaining rights. An administration that began with a much ballyhooed Education Summit has delivered public school funding increases down in the foothills. The cheaper you make government, after all, the more bucks you have to deliver tax breaks to your allies.

A fertilizer plant needs tax help, the governor will do a hard 90 to make it happen. But it took him five years to finally offer a plan to pay for measures keeping fertilizer out of our waterways. He used a veto to deflate a bipartisan effort to provide $25 million to the Resource Enhancement and Protection program, or REAP, on its 25th anniversary.

The good news is, as of January’s filing, Branstad has $381,318.31 left in his campaign account. Sure, he could give it to the Republican Party. Maybe he already has. But Iowa law also allows him to donate it to charity, so long as no member of his family benefits.

Perhaps Branstad could donate the money to food banks, or maybe to a free clinic, which could see its business boosted by his Medicaid “modernization.” There are mental health advocacy groups and conservation organizations that could use the dough. Ditto with arts and cultural entities now on the chopping block by the president Branstad campaigned so tirelessly to elect.

It would be a nice gesture as he rides into the sunset.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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