116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is investigating complaints that three write-in campaigns for uncontested Cedar Rapids City Council seats in the Nov. 2 election failed to file paperwork after seemingly spending above the $1,000 threshold that requires documentation.
Council member Ashley Vanorny filed a complaint with the board against Bo Mac’s owners Craig and Brett McCormick, who unsuccessfully ran for District 5 and at-large seats, respectively, as well as Bo Mac’s employee Rocky Wicher, who unsuccessfully sought the District 1 seat.
According to Vanorny’s complaint, digital ads for each candidate were run near Kohl’s at 3030 Wiley Blvd. SW and west of the Target on 1030 Blairs Ferry Road NE that likely cost over $1,000 — which would be above the threshold requiring candidates to file campaign disclosure reports with the state and register a campaign committee. A form is not required for those who do not raise or spend less than that amount.
In the complaint, Vanorny wrote she made an inquiry by phone on Nov. 1 to get an estimate on the cost of these ads and learned the cost ran at $1,500. Given there were at least two, she wrote “it is clear that this violates the campaign finance minimum of $1,000.”
Photos of the ads show they said “Vote” before one of the candidate’s names. Below that, it stated the council seat they were running for and included instructions for people to fill in the oval on their ballot as well as write in the candidate’s name.
Vanorny was reelected to a four-year term on the part-time council in the Nov. 2 election representing District 5, which covers much of southwest Cedar Rapids. Similarly, Tyler Olson was reelected in the at-large seat and Marty Hoeger in the District 1 spot representing northeast Cedar Rapids. No one else filed to be on ballot the in those races.
Ultimately, the write-in campaigns — launched shortly before the election through large digital ads and magazine ads — garnered few votes.
In the at-large race, Brett McCormick received 13 votes, plus there was one vote for McCormick, not specifying which one, according to official results. Wicher and Craig McCormick each received two votes in that race.
Wicher received two votes in the District 1 race, though voters misspelled his name both times. In District 5, Craig McCormick received four votes.
Board Executive Director Mike Marshall said in an email that this matter was “held over for additional investigation” to the panel’s Nov. 18 meeting. So was a complaint stemming from mayoral candidate Amara Andrews’ campaign’s coordination with a political action committee to send a mailer to voters in October.
Staff with the board did not return requests for comment seeking details on the status of the investigations.
Craig McCormick said he and Brett, who is his son, as well as Wicher used their own money to pay for digital ads “and we took no contributions for that.” Additionally, he said the three ran ads in Tidbits Magazine using their own money. He said he did not recall how much the ads cost, but said each digital ad was over $1,000.
“For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do the paperwork necessary for that and we admit to that,” Craig McCormick said.
He said his son is talking with campaign disclosure board staff to file the necessary reports and “when we get to it, we’ll get to it.”
“All three of those campaigns, the paperwork will be submitted,” Craig McCormick said.
The three decided to run because they took issue with some of the decisions made by the nine-member City Council, including the vote allowing Cargill to put a rail yard in the Rompot neighborhood to support its corn-milling plant at 1710 16th St. SE. He said the write-in candidates knew they would not win.
“We are so tired of the inadequacies of the city and what the City Council is doing on so many different fronts,” McCormick said. “We thought we would make a statement.”
Wicher also took issue with city decisions. “I’m not a politician but I really pay attention and do a little research about what goes on and what’s been going on here in the city,” Wicher said.
The mailer that resulted in an ethics complaint against Andrews stated it was paid for by Iowa Voter Info, with the same post office box as the Linn County Democratic Central Committee.
Bret Nilles, chair of the Linn County Democrats, a separate group with some members who also are behind the Iowa Voter Info PAC, has said this was a mistake and the mailer instead should have given the office box listed with the Federal Elections Commission.
Iowa Voter Info is registered with the FEC. Its first filing date was Oct. 27, after the mailer had already been sent.
Andrews’ report filed Oct. 28, the most recent available, lists in-kind contributions of $9,000 on Oct. 2 and another on Oct. 12 totaling $7,557.23, all for direct mail from the Iowa Voter Info entity.
Andrew Greenberg, an attorney with the board, previously told The Gazette he was looking into the mailer for potential violations. He mentioned there was uncertainty about the implications of the erroneous postal office box listing and the committee’s FEC registration date coming after the mailer was sent.
Separately, a group called Iowa Voter Information, run by Jennifer Hauff of Keokuk, in Facebook posts has called this PAC’s filing “total fraud.” Hauff wrote that her page’s email address was used in the committee’s FEC filing and she has “half a dozen emails from the state demanding I follow proper procedure for campaign contributions.”
Barry Boyer, a supporter of mayoral candidate Tiffany O’Donnell, filed the complaint with the state board over the mailer, taking issue with what he says was the PAC’s failure to register as a city PAC.
Andrews and O’Donnell will face off in a Nov. 30 runoff election.
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