Corbett swears off the swamp

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Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, a fan of pop music, has no doubt heard the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies perform “If I Had a $1,000,000.”

“If I had a million dollars,” the song gleefully insists, “I’d buy your love.”

Corbett, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, might also like to add “credibility” and “viability” and to that lyrical list of what a million can buy.

“I’d be rich,” the Barenaked Ladies conclude.

“I do have a shot,” the fully clothed mayor says.

And it turns out Corbett does have $1 million, or, more precisely, he has raised just more than $800,000 in campaign cash and has “hard commitments” for $219,000 more. Hardly a fortune in this day and age, but not too shabby for just a few weeks on the campaign trail. He announced his take last week at a Des Moines news conference.

“What this shows is that people around the state of Iowa aren’t bought into this establishment narrative that the race is over before it starts. The race is just beginning,” Corbett told reporters.

But it will be a cold day in January before we know exactly who is giving money to Corbett’s effort. Under Iowa law, he isn’t required to file a campaign finance disclosure for all of 2017 until January. Still, he is free to release it whenever he wants. Consider this a formal invitation to spill the beans sooner than later.

At the same news conference, Corbett vowed he would take no campaign cash from what he called the Washington, D.C., “special-interest swamp.” And here I thought the president had already drained that swamp. I guess it’s a work in progress.

Corbett says he won’t take donations from Washington interest groups, PACs and lobbyists. He’s also denouncing any independent outside groups dropping into Iowa to launch attack ads paid for with shady or dark money. He challenged his opponent, Gov. Kim Reynolds, to also steer clear of swamp money.

This is, of course, a gimmick. Corbett knows Reynolds’ fundraising take will be massive, and as the establishment favorite, a fair amount of her money will be swampy. It’s a pre-emptive strike to blunt the optics of Reynolds’ huge money advantage.

But it’s also admirable, particularly in its denouncement of outside spending. Anyone who lived through our 2014 U.S. Senate race knows how swiftly and easily a swarm of billionaire-backed super PACs can take over a campaign and drown out Iowans’ voices with an armada of dishonest ads. It was a sad spectacle.

“If we’re going to change how much money is in politics, it has to start with the candidates,” Corbett said.

So he’s got $1 million. But other numbers looked less rosy for his “underdog” bid.

Yes, The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll this week showed Reynolds’ approval rating at a less-than-stellar 46 percent, with a whopping 30 percent “not sure.” So her aura of inevitability has a few dents.

But the same poll also showed 70 percent of Republicans believe the state is on the right track. So Corbett’s got a lot of work to do convincing GOP primary voters to toss a sitting governor. Buying their love will take a lot more than $1 million. It might be out of his price range.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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