Iowa’s rule requiring Statehouse politicians and staff to wait two years before engaging in lobbying activity has earned high marks in a national analysis of state ethics laws.
Public Citizen concluded Iowa has the best “revolving door” policy restricting the transition from public office to lobbying. The state’s nearly 30-year-old policy was adopted in the wake of the Iowa Trust scandal and is intended to guard against politicians and staff being influenced by promises of a lucrative position by entities lobbying the legislative or executive branches.
Iowa can be justifiably proud of its ranking and its common sense policy. And we think this moment would be a good time for state leaders to consider what other improvements could be made to the state’s ethics and campaign disclosure policies.
For Iowans, piecing together the full picture of moneyed influence in state politics and policymaking can be difficult. The Legislature is the custodian of records showing how much special interests spend on lobbying and on legislative receptions. But the Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is in charge of compiling campaign finance reports.
Iowa’s campaign finance disclosure system could use an overhaul. Too infrequent filing deadlines made sense when candidates mailed in hand-prepared paper reports. But in the age of digital filing, Iowans easily could get a picture of donations and spending on a monthly basis.
Right now, candidates can raise and spend money in off years without reporting until January of an election year. And money contributed and spent in the final critical days of a campaign aren’t reported until well after Election Day. A state that allows unlimited political giving should not place these sorts of limits on public disclosure.
The website where Iowans access campaign finance data has undergone few changes in years and presents reports in a way that makes deeper, broader analysis of the numbers difficult. It’s long past time for major upgrades that would make the site far easier to navigate while providing more tools for crunching the numbers.
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We see no good reason why Iowans should not be able to access a single source showing how much a special interest group spends on lobbying and receptions as well as its campaign donations. It should be a priority of state leaders to make its disclosure system far more accessible and usable. The technology is available. All that’s needed is political will.
Clearly, the state deserves credit for its revolving door policy. But it now needs to open more windows for Iowans to clearly view the full scope of Statehouse influence.
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