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Ethics Board Okays Free Flights For Reynolds Campaign

Joyce Russell/IPR
Members of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board with Ex. Dir. Megan Tooker (center)

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board today threw out ethics complaints against Gov. Kim Reynolds for accepting gifts of free flights on private jets, including a trip to a bowl game in Memphis last year.   

Since May of 2017, in nine instances the Reynolds campaign traveled on private planes. and reported it as in-kind campaign contributions.     

"Has the Reynolds campaign violated any law here?" -Board Chair James Albert

Board Chairman James Albert questioned the board’s attorney Megan Tooker about precedent for such free travel.

“Are you saying we've allowed Democratic candidates for governor and Democratic governors to accept the same kind of in-flight contributions?” Albert asked.  “That's been the board practice as far back as your research shows?”

“Correct,” Tooker replied.  “At least as far back as 2002.”

The board concluded that it is legal for the campaign to accept an in-kind contribution like air travel from what’s called a restricted donor, someone who does business with the state. 

For the Memphis trip, the plane was owned by Sedgwick, a firm that handles workers compensation claims for the state.    So under the state’s gift law, CEO David North can’t give elected officials gifts.   But there are some exceptions, including giving to a campaign.    

"I focused on what were the campaign's responsibilities." -Ex. Dir. Megan Tooker

“Under the gift law, government officials may not accept gifts from restricted donors except for 19 exceptions,” Tooker said.   “The first one is campaign contributions.”

Other questions involved whether the trip to Memphis was a legitimate campaign expense.

“If you look at her reports she did take in campaign contributions and she said she met with donors while she was there,” Tooker said.   “I think it's reasonable while she was in Memphis where there where there were presumably thousands of Iowans in attendance that she engaged in campaign activites.” 

The board cleared the campaign on all counts.

“Has the Reynolds campaign violated any Iowa law here?” Brooks asked.  

"Perhaps we will file a subsequent complaint." -Atty Gary Dickey

“In my opinion no,” Tooker replied.  “I focused on what were the campaign’s responsibilities.   Can the campaign accept an in-kind contribution?  Yes.   Can a campaign receive a contribution from a restricted donor?   Yes.”

Des Moines Attorney Gary Dickey filed a separate complaint alleging that the Reynolds campaign undervalued the worth of the trip to Memphis on Sedgwick’s Gulfstream G200.       Dickey compiled quotes from other providers suggesting the value of the trip was twice the $2880 that was reported.

The board concluded the estimated value was reasonable.

Tooker says Dickey will not be allowed to appeal the order.

“Perhaps we will file a subsequent complaint that is more detailed and provides more legal analysis,” Dickey said.

Four members of the five-member board voted unanimously.    Those voting included two Democrats, one Republican, and one Independent.   

Follow Joyce Russell on Twitter:   @russell_ipr