116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If you’ve grown weary of the bitter partisanship that has clouded the Cedar Rapids mayoral race, brace yourself for more ugliness. We’ve reached the “dark money” phase of the contest.
Last Saturday, I received another campaign mailer to add to the stack. Like literature previously sent by the Amara Andrews campaign, it reminds voters of candidate Tiffany O’Donnell’s registration as one of those evil Republicans, apparently a crucial factor in this non-partisan race.
This mailer was not sent by Andrews’ campaign. Sure, it used the exact same photo of O’Donnell as Andrews’ literature and was printed in the same font. Yes, it used the same phrasing to connect O’Donnell with other evil Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson and Gov. Kim Reynolds. (Notably, O’Donnell donated to Reynolds’ challenger, Fred Hubbell, during the last gubernatorial election.) Even the attribution statement, required by Iowa law to be displayed on political material to identify who paid for it, was placed in the same spot where Andrews’ campaign literature listed its own.
I long for the days when municipal elections really were just about potholes and speed cameras.
But the attribution itself was the key difference. The mailer I received on Saturday read “Paid for by Iowa Voter Info.” What — or who — is Iowa Voter Info? I have no idea.
There’s no committee listed on the website for the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board with a name resembling anything even close to “Iowa Voter Info.” Until this week, there also was nothing on the FEC website. A Facebook page called “Iowa Voter Information” was emphatically confirmed by its administrator, a resident of Keokuk, to be unaffiliated with the name on the mailer.
Google searches for “Iowa Voter Info” and “Iowa Voter Info PAC” yield all sorts of results, as one might imagine with such generic search terms. But they don’t produce any websites about any group campaigning on a specific issue or candidate, in stark contrast to other committees hoping to influence local voters. For example, a search for “Level Up For Marion” leads to a Facebook page for a committee of the same name, formed to encourage passage of a bond referendum for the Marion Independent School District. Per Iowa law, it filed a statement of organization with the ethics board, so voters can see who is funding it.
Andrews, along with her campaign chairman Steve Shriver and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who is advising her campaign through his consulting firm, all indicated that they are unfamiliar with the origin of the mailer.
“I don’t know what Iowa Voter Info means,” Andrews stated in a text message Monday. She and her campaign certainly can’t be legally or ethically responsible for actions outside the campaign that they claim are done without their knowledge.
In campaign finance documents released Thursday, the Andrews campaign reported giving $9,000 to Iowa Voter Info this month, one of the campaign’s largest expenditures. The campaign also received an in-kind donation from the group totaling more than $7,500 for direct mail.
"I have given my campaign broad authority to support groups that are dedicated to helping progressive leaders get elected to public office. This support comes in the form of volunteerism and financial support,” Andrews said in a news release.
The statement doesn’t explain why Andrews and her allies this week denied being involved with the group, days before they revealed the truth in their financial disclosure.
Unfortunately, voters also know nothing about Iowa Voter Info. They don’t know the identities of the involved people, nor their values, principles or the policy priorities that might motivate their involvement in our mayoral race. Worst of all, voters know nothing about the organization’s finances, and are oblivious to the origins of the substantial funds needed to print and send a professional mailer to voters.
I wish it were different. Much has been made about the partisan tone of the Cedar Rapids mayor’s race. Dark money only fuels that cynicism. I long for the days when municipal elections really were just about potholes and speed cameras.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Friday Oct. 29: This column was updated to note Iowa Voter Info was registered with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, Oct. 27.