DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday there was nothing inappropriate about a plane ride to an out-of-state football bowl game she accepted from a campaign donor whose company has done state business.
She cleared the trip to the Dec. 30, 2017, game in Memphis, Tenn., in advance with the state ethics board and disclosed it on a campaign report.
Reynolds and her family were invited by the Iowa State University president to attend the Liberty Bowl and watch the Cyclones play. She flew aboard a jet owned by Sedgwick, which administers workers’ compensation claims.
A January campaign finance report filed by the governor lists a $2,880 in-kind contribution from Sedgwick Chief Executive Officer David North of Bellevue.
The flight was first reported by the Associated Press, which also reported Sedgwick received $1.4 million from the state last year for its work as a state vendor.
Before heading to the game, Reynolds said her legal counsel consulted with Megan Tooker, head of the state Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, and was told she could accept the flight for herself and her husband as an in-kind campaign contribution because the two of them would be engaging in campaign activities — a detail Tooker confirmed Thursday. She said, though she was not told who was providing the plane.
“The first thing that we do whenever we do this is to talk to ethics to make sure that we’re not breaking any rules and we get either a yes or no from them and then we proceed,” Reynolds told reporters. “We want to make sure that Iowans know what we’re doing and that’s what we did. We’re being very transparent. We disclosed it. I asked. They OK’d.”
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Iowa law prohibits a public official, public employee, candidate or that person’s immediate family from accepting a gift from a restricted donor unless one of 19 exceptions to the gift law applies, said Tooker.
The first exception is campaign contributions, meaning that restricted donors may give monetary and in-kind contributions to elected officials or candidates.
“I told the governor’s legal counsel that she may accept the flight for herself and husband as an in-kind campaign contribution because the two of them would be engaging in campaign activities,” Tooker noted.
The ethics board leader said she has received a complaint from an individual questioning whether the governor could accept in-kind flights, which the board will consider at its meeting next week with the options of dismissing it or investigating it.
Iowa Democrats criticized the GOP governor’s willingness to accept a trip aboard a corporate jet owned by a company that has done business with the state.
“Whether it is taking a wealthy friend’s private plane or passing a corporate tax giveaway, Reynolds has proven to be the kind of politician that can be bought,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price. “Each mile bought and paid for by wealthy special interests places Iowa taxpayers further and further behind on Reynolds’ list of priorities.”
In response to reporters’ questions about favoritism, Reynolds said “no, because I took the steps on the front end because I wanted to make sure that we weren’t doing anything wrong.”
She added, “We were just meeting with donors and it was an opportunity to get in front of Iowans and share the excitement of Iowa State making a bowl game.”
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She pointed out she disclosed the plane ride on public reports and challenged Democratic rival Fred Hubbell to release more information about his finances.
“I hope somebody’s asking Fred these same questions about him not being transparent, about handing out millions of dollars to a multinational company that he was personally invested in and then to refuse to release his tax returns or to give you a couple hours at them,” she said.
ISU spokesman John McCarroll said the university sent Reynolds an invoice and she wrote a personal check for $380 in January to cover four tickets at $95 each.
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