Following the Money: Iowa GOP Gubernatorial Campaign Cash



As some of you may be aware state/local campaign reports were due last week in Iowa.  I’ve spent some time looking over just the Republican gubernatorial candidates in the race.  I decided to focus on those candidates for a couple of reasons.

1. Since Governor Chet Culver is currently in office much of his travel is covered by the state so the report isn’t going to reflect true cost of campaigning.  Not to mention I didn’t have that much time.  If you would like to look at his campaign reports, you can go here.

2. Jonathan Narcisse is still exploring a run and hasn’t had to file any disclosure forms.

For times sake I’m focusing only on the remaining four candidates in the GOP field.  Here they are by order of fundraising ability.

Governor Terry Branstad

Governor Branstad’s fundraising efforts has been the most impressive and he leads in the campaign cash category.  According to his disclosure report he has raised $1,540,618.93 (and that was just October-December, unlike Vander Plaats’ total which was all year).  His campaign spent $185,973.56.  They also had $21,664.23 in in-kind donations.  They have $1,354,645.37 with cash on hand and are well positioned for 2010.  Some items I noticed with their expenditures:

  • They have only spent $1777.25 for meals, lodging and mileage so far.  None of that has been to reimburse the candidate.  It is likely that Governor Branstad is able to self-finance his own expenses.  I did notice they are a little frugal with mileage only paying $.37/mile which is way under the allowable IRS rate.
  • I think they were robbed when they had their internet services set-up.  $8,900?  Really?  It isn’t like he has that many staff, and even setting up a server and network shouldn’t cost that much.
  • I thought it was somewhat ironic that they had to pay the Draft Branstad PAC $2750 for their email list.  You’d think they’d want to give it away since they wanted Governor Branstad to run so bad.

From what I can see, fiscally anyway, Governor Branstad is running an excellent campaign.  It shouldn’t be any wonder why he is the front runner.

Bob Vander Plaats

The Vander Plaats campagin raised $595,740.13 in 2009 which surpassed the amount he raised last year.  Vander Plaats also had $61,999.87 given in the form of in-kind contributions.  The campaign spent $392,630.67 last year which is the most of any campaign (it should be noted that Branstad wasn’t running throughout 2009).

Regarding those expenditures, some things I noticed and then wondered… is Bob really Dutch?:

  • They spent the most in travel, lodging and food – $50,739.24 which covers Vander Plaats and all of his staff.  Also not mentioned is how much they paid for mileage.
  • Some of the food expenditures are iffy, for instance I didn’t realize that candidates had planned meetings with supporters in a Kum & Go, but Vander Plaats had several “meetings” there.
  • I also noticed several coffee purchases that were reimbursed to staff.  Those type of purchases are unlikely to be reimbursed by any organization, and, in my opinion, violates the spirit of Iowa Code 68A.302 (how campaign money can be spent) if not the letter of the code.  I know that is peanuts however.
  • $5525 was spent on pilot services, but at least the plane was an in-kind donation.  I believe that coincides when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was in Iowa campaigning for Vander Plaats.  No other candidate had such an expenditure.  By the way, there is nothing wrong with this.  I’m just pointing it out.
  • Paid $7500 for photography, I know Dave Davidson is good, but it is definitely way more than any other candidate spent on such services.
  • They reimbursed the Iowa Association of Business and Industry on 7/1 for $5000 for Huckabee travel.  I’m curious if Mike Huckabee truly wants to help out his candidates of choice why HuckPAC isn’t covering this?
  • Then they spent almost $30,000 on consulting fees for Dresner, Wickers & Associates out of San Francisco.  This is the same business that Huckabee uses.  I wonder if they’ve done some internal polling for the campaign, and what that is saying.  Notice we aren’t seeing any polling leaks from them.
  • They sent 4-5 staff down to Texas for the Chuck Norris fundraiser, but strangely enough I didn’t see any of the money raised for that disclosed.  A personal observation I’ve noticed with Vander Plaats is that it doesn’t seem like he can travel without staff.
  • On 7/10 he paid his business $500 for the Huckabee event in Spirit Lake.  They also spent $1500 for books for the Chuck Norris fundraiser.

My point in bringing this up isn’t that any of the expenditures were illegal or necessarily inappropriate, but in light of where he stands in the campaign he doesn’t appear to be spending his campaign money in a smart way.  You also learn a lot about a candidate by how they spend their money, and he’s certainly not running his campaign like a fiscal conservative.  But you look at his expenditures and decide for yourself.

Representative Rod Roberts

He must be Dutch :) as he was the most frugal with his campaign money out of those still running.  In the summary of his disclosure we see that he had $10,769.18 on hand coming into 2009.  He raised $100,113.68.  He received one loan of $13,000.  His expenditures for the entire year were only $22,024.18.

There really wasn’t much to notice with his expenditures.  He spent $7883.15 on meals, lodging and mileage (not counting meals for volunteers), he also didn’t state what his mileage rate was.  His frugality in 2009 actually places him in a good position for 2010.  He’s not that far behind Vander Plaats, as far as cash on hand is concerned.  While Vander Plaats has more, Roberts doesn’t have the infrastructure expenses like Vander Plaats has (staff, offices, contracts).  He has plenty of cash to run radio and print ads in order to help himself become better known statewide.  Being the in the General Assembly at the moment gives him the opportunity for free publicity and press coverage, for example, moving to eliminate the corporate income tax last week (one of his campaign positions).  He will also have plenty of cash to engage in retail politics getting out to different county events like he has already been doing.

Representative Chris Rants

Representative Rants has the dubious distinction of spending more than what he raised last year.  According to his campaign disclosure he had $18,438.33 on hand at the beginning of the year.  He only raised $71,580 in 2009 bringing his campaign cash total to $90,018.33.  He spent $83,876.05 last year.  Some items I noticed with his disclosure:

  • He had a number of PAC donors early on, but that dried up later in the year.  He told The Iowa Republican that donations dried up after Branstad entered the race.  All indications though is that he is in the race to stay.
  • He also has a lot of out-of-state donors, with his two largest living in South Dakota.  They gave a total of $20,000.  When you raise $71,000 and $20K comes from two people who can’t vote for you that doesn’t look good.
  • Rants spent $31,860.80 on travel, food and lodging.  His food purchases were for fundraising purposes through the Des Moines Embassy Club.  The mileage rate he used was $.48/mile which is under the IRS allowance.
  • He had an expenditure jumped out to me – RJC Properties – payments of $450 made on 4/30, 6/1, 7/1, 8/1, 10/1, 10/30 and 12/1 in 2009.  I knew he kept an apartment in Des Moines as a legislator, and thought that was perhaps a violation of the Iowa Code 68A.302 which states that campaign funds can’t be used for, “mortgage payments, rental payments, furnishings, or renovation or improvement expenses for a permanent residence of a candidate or family member, including a residence in the state capital during a term of office or legislative session.”  I spoke with Charlie Smithson, the legal counsel for the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board who said that since the payments were made for this post session it was legal.  Also Representative Rants responded to my inquiry saying that he cleared it through Smithson and it is no different than having to spend money on a hotel, that it was “much cheaper to have a central place to travel to and from.”
  • Out of his travel expenditures he spent $5468.28 for out-of-state travel for “legislative duties” to several locations.  I asked him about those expenditures as well, and he replied, “Some was on legislative duties – I chair a task force for the National Council of State Legislatures.  Some legislators go to those meetings and the state picks up the tab.  I decided not to do that.  Some was pure political – like a couple trips to DC.”  While these expenditures are legal, based on his current cash flow one can ask whether or not these were wise expenditures in relation to his gubernatorial campaign.
  • The last thing that I feel is noteworthy was how much was spent on opposition research – $15,000.  With $12,000 going to Public Pulse Research in Missouri (started by John Hancock, former Missouri State Legislator and former director of the Missouri Republican Party) and another $3000 going to Ryan Keller of Urbandale (not sure who he is).  I doubt he is the only candidate to do this, opposition research may likely be part of the consultants that Vander Plaats and Branstad have contacted.  I just thought it was curious how much was spent for it.

Conclusion:

Branstad is clearly in the best position.  He can run TV ads, radio, hire staff to organize county-wide, and has plenty of cash on hand to travel the state.  Vander Plaats spending last year and current infrastructure is going to hurt him if fundraising doesn’t go well in 2010 or cuts back on infrastructure costs.  Roberts is positioned well to be a surprise candidate with money to spend on radio, possible exposure this session in the General Assembly and his general likeability as he goes around the state.  Rants is in trouble.  He has money to continue to travel the state and push issues which is good in this primary race.  I just, at this point, don’t see how he can be a viable candidate without some miraculous turnaround.

Update: I learned that my suspicions about Representative Roberts is true, he is Dutch on his mother’s side.  I knew it!

2nd Update (1/26/10): Representative Roberts informed me this morning that his campaign mileage rate is $.39/mile.

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Comments

  1. Ann says

    It seems like you are taking digs at Bob Vander Plaats and Mike Huckabee at the same time. You have a horse in the 2012 race (Sarah Palin) and you are worried that if Bob wins–it is likely that Mike Huckabee would win the caucus since he has the governor’s endorsement and organization. Branstad went through 200,000 dollars in 3 months and you are mad at Bob for going through $400,000 in 1 year. If Branstad kept spending like he was, he would go through $800,000 in 1 year (double that of Bob). Don’t be biased just because you think Bob’s success hurts Palin’s chances in 2012.

    • says

      @Ann, Ann, I wasn’t even considering 2012 when I wrote this, but obviously you see any criticism of VP in that lens. So I’m not thinking about endorsements, and if Branstad won that would be more help to Romney who I don’t want to see as the nominee.

      I’m not “mad” at Bob, but I don’t think he’s running an effective campaign and some of his spending is just plain wasteful. He can spend his money like that if he wants, but he’s hurt himself.

      I looked at Branstad’s expenses thus far and he’s spending his money in an effective manner.

      If you notice I also criticized Rants’ spending/fundraising. I like him. So that pretty well shoots your biased argument down.

  2. says

    I have zero insider knowledge but the one criticism of Branstad’s report you mentioned was internet services setup. I wonder if that included web design, logos, internet connection and setup, and equipment to handle massive call centers, data-entry machines, LAN network setup, etc. That stuff adds up quick and will be money he wouldn’t have to spend later if he’s planning for the long-haul.

    I have no idea except I remember paying bills for similar work in previous roles and it was similarly pricey.