In the Sunday edition of the Des Moines Register, Jason Clayworth wrote an article alleging that GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants left his peers with $200,000.00 in debt following the 2008 general elections. In the last election cycle, Rants was the Republican leader in the Iowa House and was in charge of implementing the campaign strategy to return Republicans to a majority party.
However, there are some major problems with the Des Moines Register’s story. First, Rants told TheIowaRepublican.com, “It’s not true, I did not leave a $200,000.00 debt.” Second, the campaign disclosures filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board (IECDB) do not show any debt following the 2008 election. The IECDB disclosure that was filed in January of this year did show that $35,980.21 was owed to the House Majority Fund’s direct mail vendor, JDK Marketing and Public Affairs. Having some unpaid bills such as this following a campaign is not unusual.
Third, the people that Clayworth cited in his article did not confirm that Rants left the House Majority Fund with $200,000.00 in debt. In the Register story, Clayworth wrote, “Bill Schickel, a former state representative and current secretary of the Republican State Central Committee, acknowledged the debt, although he wasn’t sure of the exact amount. Schickel said he didn’t believe the debt was directly connected with Rants’ loss of his leadership position.” Yet, when asked by TheIowaRepublican.com about the debt, Schickel said that he did not confirm any debt to Clayworth.
Republican Party of Iowa Treasurer Matt Randall also told TheIowaRepublican.com that he didn’t confirm the alleged $200,000.00 debt to Clayworth either. Additionally, current House Republican leader Kraig Paulsen told TheIowaRepublican.com that the House Majority Fund is in good standing with the Republican Party of Iowa and all of its vendors. Paulsen also called the Register’s story a distraction given that he is focused on winning the special election in House District 90 on September 1st of this year.
So how can the Des Moines Register accuse Chris Rants of leaving the HMF with $200,000.00 in debt when the financial disclosures don’t confirm it, nor do the people that Jason Clayworth cited in his article? Either the Des Moines Register should retract the story, or Jason Clayworth should disclose his source and provide some proof that the debt existed.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan quickly seized the opportunity to attack Rants, but Kiernan’s criticism is also hypocritical. In 2006, the Iowa Democratic Party took out a $420,000.00 loan from West Bank in September of that year. 2006 was the year in which House Democrats were able to wrestle control away from Republicans in the Iowa House. Unlike the alleged debt that Clayworth wrote about on Sunday, the loan that the Iowa Democratic Party took out in 2006 was disclosed to IECDB, so there is no question it existed.
In a phone conversation with TheIowaRepublican.com, Chris Rants said that he doesn’t regret the decisions he made in the final weeks and days leading up to election day in 2008. Rants said, “We needed to take action in the Schulte, Hagenow, Sweeney, Paustian and VanFossen races – last minute response mail and TV. We’d had a record breaking year for fundraising, and I was confident we could raise the money. I didn’t make that decision in a vacuum; others were at the table as well. Given that we won three of the five, and those votes made the difference this year on things like Right to Work, and Federal Deductibility, I think we made the right decision.”
A number of campaigns have had to deal with outstanding bills or loans following campaigns. In his 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Bob Vander Plaats secured a personal loan from American Bank in Le Mars for $201,479.45, and again, the details of that loan were disclosed to the IECDB. Additionally, a number of candidates loaned their campaigns money. Mike Whalen and Bill Dix each loaned their congressional campaigns money in 2006, and even Congressman Steve King loaned his congressional campaign money in 2002.
Having raised funds for a number of campaigns in Iowa, I’ve been involved post-campaign fundraising efforts to pay off outstanding bills or repay campaign loans – it’s not uncommon. What is unusual is that the Des Moines Register was willing to publish a story raising serious questions about a Republican candidate without providing any proof of its allegation.
Making matters worse, both Jason Clayworth and the Register’s new political columnist, Kathie Obradovich, blogged about the story again yesterday. Clayworth thought it was appropriate to use an unflattering picture of Rants in his post. The picture he used seemed to indicate that Rants was guilty of the Register’s accusation.
The questionable article comes just days after Carol Hunter was named as the editor of the Register’s political page. Before moving to the political news department, Hunter was the editor of the Register’s editorial page. This careless journalism makes one wonder if Hunter even reads the stories for which she’s responsible.
If the Des Moines Register can’t provide any proof of the alleged debt, it should retract the story and apologize to Chris Rants.
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