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Iowa Senate panel takes no action on ethics complaints related to pipeline bill, Facebook posts

iowa senate
John Pemble
An Iowa Senate panel unanimously tabled one ethics complaint and dismissed another Wednesday.

An Iowa Senate panel unanimously tabled an ethics complaint Wednesday against a senator who failed to schedule a hearing on a bill that would limit the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines.

The bill did not advance ahead of a legislative deadline last month.

The complaint from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement alleges Sen. Michael Bousselot, R-Ankeny, has a conflict of interest because of financial and personal ties to one of the pipeline companies.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said there is a three-year statute of limitations on Senate ethics violations, and the evidence shows Bousselot’s financial benefit came before that time.

“Sen. Bousselot has, at the very least, exercised questionable judgment and at worst, engaged in the appearance of unethical conduct,” Jochum said. “This is one of those times when a senator should have declined to serve as a subcommittee chair of a bill that had direct financial gain for Summit [Carbon] Solutions.”

The Senate Ethics Committee voted 6-0 to table the complaint indefinitely unless new evidence is brought forth that shows Bousselot received more recent financial benefits from Summit Agriculture Group.

In a statement Wednesday, Bousselot called ICCI “an extremist Democrat organization” and called the complaint “preposterous and partisan.”

“No conflict of interest exists and that fact was confirmed today,” he said.

The complaint cited Bousselot’s previous job with Summit Agriculture Group as one of the reasons for him allegedly having a conflict of interest. Summit Carbon Solutions, which has proposed one of three carbon capture pipelines in Iowa, is a subsidiary of that company.

ICCI noted that the CEO of Summit Agricultural Groups is Bruce Rastetter, a major donor to Republican candidates.

Bousselot was also chief of staff to former Gov. Terry Branstad, who is now a senior policy advisor with Summit Carbon Solutions.

Last month, Bousselot became the subcommittee chair for a bill that could have made it more difficult for Summit Carbon Solutions to use eminent domain to acquire the rest of the land needed to build its carbon capture pipeline. He had the power to schedule a hearing on the bill before a legislative deadline, but he did not do so.

Some landowners in the pipeline’s path, farmers, environmentalists, and ICCI have vocally opposed the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines. A recent poll by the Des Moines Register found 78% of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines.

Current law allows the Iowa Utilities Board to decide if the pipeline company can use eminent domain.

Committee dismisses complaint over Facebook posts

The Senate Ethics Committee unanimously dismissed an ethics complaint Wednesday against Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids.

Rebecca Dunk of Marion filed the complaint.

“Sen. Donahue continues to use her public and official Senate Facebook page to post untruthful and potentially harmful comments about members, such as myself, who belong to local parent groups,” she wrote.

Screenshots of posts included in the complaint show Donahue referred to the conservative group Moms for Liberty as a terrorist and hate group and accused them of bullying children.

The committee determined that is not an ethics violation and voted 6-0 to dismiss the complaint.

But Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, said Donahue’s posts were “unsettling.”

“When you place a picture of someone and…call them terrorists, children included in this photo, that’s really not something we want happening,” he said.

Costello said Donahue should watch what she posts or stay off social media altogether.

In her response to the ethics complaint, Donahue wrote that the complaint was baseless.

“The complaint fails to state any basis for violation, and is only intended to harm my reputation,” she said. “This is a gross misuse of the ethics complaint process and the time of the committee.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter