Staff Columnist

Gov. Reynolds, let dark money lead you to sunshine

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday, April
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Johnston. Gov. Reynolds announced there have been another 96 positive tests and four more deaths related to COVID-19.

A sharp-eyed reader called to my attention that the group Americans for Prosperity has been actively pushing back against blanket shelter-at-home orders and broad business closures in some states. He wondered whether the group is influencing decisions being made in Iowa, such as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ reluctance to issue a stronger stay-at-home directive.

You can’t blame a guy for wondering, considering how influential the conservative/libertarian group has been with Republicans running the Statehouse. AFP was a driving force behind the dismantling of bargaining rights for public employees and in the effort to stop local governments from raising the minimum wage. With big tax cuts and a regulatory rollback, AFP has had plenty to celebrate.

“AFP isn’t advocating for immediate reopening. Our point of view is that we’re being offered a false choice between blanket shutdowns and business as usual,” said Drew Klein, AFP’s Iowa director in an email. “Our organization believes that government and entrepreneurs working side by side is what’s going to get us through this crisis and position our state to thrive after we’ve weathered this pandemic.”

AFP is one voice among many likely urging Reynolds to pick business over blankets. I hope that chill you’re feeling isn’t a fever. But ne piece of AFP advice for states handling the pandemic caught my eye.

“Make information about the virus and policymakers’ decisions on combating it accessible to the public,” AFP advises in a guidance memo for states. “The open flow of information will allow stakeholders to enact appropriate measures and citizens to make informed decisions to protect public health.”

AFP also signed onto a letter from open government groups urging transparency.

“At all times, but most especially during times of national crisis, trust and credibility are the government’s most precious assets. As people are asked to make increasing sacrifices in their daily lives for the greater good of public health, the legitimacy of government decision-making requires a renewed commitment to transparency,” it said.

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And yes, I know AFP doesn’t disclose its donors. But let’s sidestep that dark (money) irony for a moment.

This week, the AP’s Ryan Foley reported on a contract between the state and the University of Iowa to create a model predicting how the pandemic will unfold here. Officials will use it to make decisions on mitigation and when to curtail existing measures. But the contract bars UI from releasing any findings to the public for one year, unless it’s authorized by the state epidemiologist. The model is for internal use only. “We will release it at some point,” Reynolds said this week. Swell.

Modeling is complex, but this issue is simple. The Reynolds administration doesn’t want us to see information they’re using to make decisions affecting scores of Iowans. That way, we can’t effectively question their wisdom.

The state did launch a website with deeper data on COVID-19’s spread. But that’s information about what’s already happened. We need to see information that’s shaping decisions about what comes next. The model will be a big piece of that puzzle, but we can’t see it until “some point.”

So, please, governor, listen to Americans for Prosperity. Strange days, indeed.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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