116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee unanimously dismissed an ethics complaint alleging Sen. Dan Zumbach used his position to pressure state employees to approve a cattle feedlot owned by his son-in-law.
Committee members agreed the 20-page complaint, filed by the Committee to Save Bloody Run Creek, did not prove Zumbach got preferential treatment after talking with state officials.
“Did Sen. Zumbach meet with DNR? Yeah,” said Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City. “He’s perfectly within his rights to meet with the DNR. What we have before us (in the complaint) is because the DNR made the decision they did, somehow Sen. Zumbach must have done something improper. This is not a door we want to open.”
The complaint, filed last month, alleged Zumbach, a Ryan Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, met with Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials at least twice about the proposed feedlot between 2017 and 2020, despite neither the feedlot nor the owners being in his district.
According to the complaint, Zumbach weighed in with the DNR before critical decisions about the project. These included:
- The DNR’s 2017 decision to allow an earthen manure storage basin to be classified as an industrial wastewater treatment lagoon. Earthen basins are not allowed in the porous, karst terrain of northeast Iowa.
- When the DNR in 2017 was considering issuance of a federal stormwater permit for construction at the site near Monona. Feedlot owners got the permit after two face-to-face meetings including Zumbach and DNR staff, the complaint states.
- The DNR legal staff argued in 2018 stormwater permit violations at the feedlot should be handled the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which may pursue higher penalties. The state Environmental Protection Commission in July 2018 failed to vote on the recommendation, leaving the matter with the DNR.
- The DNR’s 2020 decision to approve a nutrient management plan for the feedlot.
Zumbach told The Gazette last spring he had a phone conversation with DNR Director Kayla Lyon on Oct. 2, 2020, about Supreme Beef, owned by Mike Walz, Dean Walz and Jared Walz. Jared Walz is the husband of Zumbach’s daughter, Chelsea, and father of Zumbach’s grandchildren.
“Since I sit on the Natural Resources Committee, I’m in communication with the DNR, and I simply asked Kayla to get the right folks in contact with Supreme Beef so they could continue working through the permitting process,” Zumbach told The Gazette last year.
“I don’t know the players at all,” he said. “That’s not part of my concern or my responsibility. I simply asked the director if she could help this constituent get to the right folks.”
A few days after that Oct. 2, 2020, meeting, the DNR approved Supreme Beef having 2,750 cows. A revised nutrient management plan, approved by the DNR on April 2, bumped up the operation to 11,600 head of cattle.
Two Democrats on the committee said some of the allegations against Zumbach caused them concern, but those allegations are too old to be considered under the Senate’s three-year statute of limitations.
“I’ve read through this 20-page complaint and several times my eyebrows raised, and I felt a little unnerved myself about conversations that occurred before 2020,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
She and Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, encouraged the complainants to file a new complaint if there were other more recent contacts Zumbach had with the DNR.
The complaint charged that Zumbach broke the Senate Code of Ethics, which says members should “strive to avoid both unethical and illegal conduct and the appearance of unethical and illegal conduct.”
Further, the code says:
“Whenever a senator appears before a governmental agency or board, the senator shall carefully avoid all conduct which might in any way lead members of the general public to conclude that the senator is using the senator’s official position to further the senator’s professional success or personal financial interest.”
The complaint did not allege Zumbach had any financial stake in the feedlot, a point Zumbach reiterated in a response to The Gazette last month.
“I’m really saddened by this organization’s thoughts they need to personally attack legislators,” he said in a voicemail. “I have no ability to influence the DNR, and I have no financial interest in that facility.”
Comments: (319) 339-3157; email@example.com