Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Finkenauer did miss votes (So did Blum)

Rep. Rod Blum and challenger Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer listen to moderator KXEL News & Program Director Jeff Stein during a televised debate for the US House District 1 seat at the KGAN studio in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Rep. Rod Blum and challenger Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer listen to moderator KXEL News & Program Director Jeff Stein during a televised debate for the US House District 1 seat at the KGAN studio in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Introduction

“Did you know Abby Finkenauer skipped work and missed 76 votes as a legislator?”

“She hasn’t passed a single bill ... and was absent from important economic committee meetings.”

“Did you know Abby Finkenauer violated the House of Representatives Code of Ethics, was cited for a clear conflict of interest, and when caught refused to apologize?”

Source of claims

U.S. Rep. Rod Blum sponsored the “No Apology” ad airing on Eastern Iowa television stations, including KCRG-TV. Blum, a Dubuque Republican, is running against state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, in Iowa’s 1st U.S. House District.

Analysis

Claim 1: “Did you know Abby Finkenauer skipped work and missed 76 votes as a legislator?”

Finkenauer served in the Iowa House for four legislative sessions and during that time missed dozens of votes. Reviewing legislative logs, the Fact Checker counted six missed votes for Finkenauer in 2015, 33 missed votes in 2016, 13 in 2017 and 24 in 2018.

For perspective, 76 votes in three years is a small portion of the total votes the Legislature takes. For example, on April 26, Finkenauer missed two votes but still took part in 29 others.

It is not unusual for lawmakers to miss occasional votes because of scheduling conflicts or personal matters. For example, we found Blum has missed 27 votes this year in Washington — three more than Finkenauer missed this year.

Even though it’s not a rarity, Finkenauer did miss dozens of votes in four years as a legislator. Based on the math, this claim gets an A.

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Claim 2: “She hasn’t passed a single bill.”

Iowa legislative records show Finkenauer sponsored 46 bills during her time in the Iowa House. Of those, six were adopted but all were resolutions, including one honoring a former Iowa coal mining town, one commemorating the anniversary of Operation Desert Storm and several congratulating athletes and their colleges for achievements.

While resolutions are listed in the Bill Index for the Legislature, the Legislative Services Agency defines a resolution as “a formal expression of opinion or decision (not to be confused with a bill).” Those resolutions do not count as bills. That’s why this claim gets an A.

Claim 3: “ ... and was absent from important economic committee meetings.”

In two years on the House Committee for Economic Growth, Finkenauer missed four of 18 meetings, according to meeting minutes reviewed by the Fact Checker. Finkenauer was not alone. We found several other committee members who missed at least one meeting, but a couple made it to all 18.

We also found Finkenauer missed meetings when she served on the Ways and Means Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee and on the Government Oversight Committee as the ranking member. Again, Finkenauer was not the only lawmaker to miss some of those meetings.

It is not rare for legislators to occasionally miss committee meetings due to scheduling conflicts with other legislative duties or for personal matters. But it is accurate Finkenauer missed meetings. This claim gets an A.

Claim 4: “Did you know Abby Finkenauer violated the House of Representatives code of ethics, was cited for a clear conflict of interest and refused to apologize?”

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In 2016, Finkenauer admitted violating Iowa House ethics rules when she failed to update her required financial disclosure after taking a job as the state director for an advocacy group called Make It Work.

At the time, Finkenauer told KCRG-TV she was sorry for the oversight, something her campaign now calls a minor clerical error. However, she has refused to apologize for a conflict of interest because she notes there wasn’t one. Her ethics violation was based on deadlines for updating her disclosure form, not a conflict of interest complaint, as the ad suggests. Her position with Make It Work is not barred under any of the Legislature’s ethics rules, and there never was a complaint that she voted or acted on matters that directly benefited her or her employer’s interests.

That misleading explanation of Finkenauer’s ethics violation is why this claim gets a D.

Conclusion

Blum’s claims mostly are factually accurate, though lack perspective. But there is a big disconnect with the facts around Finkenauer’s ethics violation. That’s why the claims measured in this ad get a B.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder 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 factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Josh Scheinblum of KCRG-TV.

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Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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