116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Members who currently serve on Iowa’s Board of Regents have made monetary and in-kind political donations totaling nearly $339,500 since 2019 — primarily to Republicans, with the majority going either to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who makes appointments to the board, or to the Republican Party of Iowa.
Iowa Code requires the nine-member board governing the state’s public universities to have gender and political balance, meaning it can’t have more than five members of the same gender or political party. The current board includes five women and four men, with five reporting Republican affiliation, three identifying as independent and one, Nancy Dunkel, marked a Democrat.
State law doesn’t restrict or regulate regent political giving. Neither does regent policy, which does restrict conflicts of interest — largely related to employment, ownership or service on another board that might have a relationship with a regent university.
“The duty of loyalty requires regents to exercise their powers and duties in the interests of the board and its institutions and not in the regent’s own interest or in the interest of another person or organization,” according to board policy. “Regents and institutional officials must endeavor to remain free from the influence of, or appearance of, any conflicting interest in acting on behalf of the board or a regent institution.”
Risewick since 2020 has given Reynolds $59,517 — $39,517 of which were in-kind donations in the form of flights. His father, Christopher Risewick, gave Reynolds $35,807 in 2020 — including a $25,807 flight — plus thousands more to both Reynolds and former Gov. Terry Branstad in previous years.
Barker — a partner in Iowa City-based Barker Companies, which manages and develops apartments and real estate — was appointed to the board in 2019 and has donated $250,180 in monetary and in-kind donations to Republicans since that year. Those include $18,388 in in-kind donations in the form of flights, food and parking, according to public records.
Board President Richards since 2019 has given $28,552 to Republicans.
“The Board of Regents is comprised of citizen volunteers, and any political contributions are made in their personal capacity,” board spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette.
Lehman didn’t answer questions about board policies on potential biases or specific questions about the regents donating flights to Reynolds and other Republicans — including whether the governor requested those flights or if the regents first offered them.
State records don’t provide details of the donated flights, beyond dates the gifts occurred.
Risewick — who Reynolds last week appointed to replace former Regent Milt Dakovich after he died of cancer in February — made the most recent flight donation to the governor on March 3, a trip valued at $21,600, according to state records.
Although neither the board nor the governor’s office provided details of that donation, a Learjet owned by Seneca Companies — a Des Moines-based petroleum services business where Risewick serves as president — flew that afternoon from Des Moines to Scottsdale, Ariz. It did not return that day.
Risewick also donated flights in 2021 to Reynolds, on Oct. 27 and Aug. 12. On the October date, the Seneca plane flew from Des Moines to Prairie du Chien, Wis., and back. On the August date, it flew from Des Moines to Dubuque and back.
Regent Barker’s in-kind donations included flights on April 23 for state Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport; former Republican Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, who was running for state auditor; Brenna Bird, Republican candidate for Iowa Attorney General; Republican Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig; and Reynolds.
Combined, that flight donation amounted to $3,543.65.
“Excited to travel the state and visit with friends @IowaGOP district conventions today,” Naig wrote in an April 23 tweet, sharing a picture of himself with Smith, Hanusa, Bird, Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst.
“Folks are energized and geared up to get Republicans elected up and down the ticket, from the US Senate to the Statehouse!” Naig wrote on Twitter.
On May 12, Barker donated a flight to Pate, a Republican up for re-election this year.
On July 27, 2021, Barker donated $2,542.37 in fundraiser food and parking to Reynolds, who also faces re-election this year.
Barker declined The Gazette’s request for comment on this story.
Although Reynolds appoints regents, each must be confirmed by a two-thirds Iowa Senate vote.
Among regent duties, the board hires presidents of the public universities; sets tuition; makes admission rules; manages campus properties including approving building projects; and oversees University of Iowa Health Care, the state’s largest hospital system.
Lawmakers in recent years have fallen far short of meeting the board’s funding requests. For the upcoming budget year, which starts Friday, the board requested a funding increase of $22.1 million and instead saw it tick up by $6.2 million.
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