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Reynolds’ Appearance In COVID Awareness Campaign Cleared By Ethics Board

Spring flowers bloom in front of the Iowa State Capitol.
Michael Leland
IPR file
The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board decided Thursday an appearance by Gov. Kim Reynolds in a coronavirus awareness video did not violate ethics laws.

A state board has found that Gov. Kim Reynolds did not violate ethics laws by appearing in a public awareness campaign asking Iowans to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, released a report in June claiming that Reynolds broke the law by appearing in a video released last year for her Step Up, Stop the Spread campaign.

Reynolds, a Republican, is in the minute-long video for about ten seconds. It features other prominent Iowans such as former Gov. Tom Vilsack and University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable.

The campaign was funded with $500,000 of federal CARES Act money, according to the special auditor’s report.

A state law bars elected officials from using tax money on ads for self-promotion, but at their meeting Thursday the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board determined the ad was primarily focused on the coronavirus.

“The governor issued an emergency proclamation concerning the public health threat posed by Covid,” said board chair James Albert. “And then she rallied former Gov. Vilsack and other well-known Iowans to appear in this commercial to alert Iowans to this public health disaster. That was the point of the commercial.”

Albert also pointed to the first clause of the law, which he said allows such an appearance during a public disaster, such as the pandemic.

The decision puts the board in agreement with the governor’s office which had claimed the law justified Reynolds’ part in the video. Sand had argued the exception does not apply because Reynolds did not specifically suspend the self-promotion law as part of an emergency proclamation.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa