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September 21st, 2010

Iowa Democrats Should Refund Tainted Money

Earlier this year, Governor Chet Culver found himself in the middle of a pay-to-play scandal when it became known that he had accepted political contributions from three individuals who were trying to get a gambling license for a Fort Dodge casino.

While Culver said there was no connection between his support of the Fort Dodge casino and the contributions, his campaign had already returned the contributions before the story made statewide news. Even though the contributions were returned, Culver is still under investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations.

More recently, Iowa’s Attorney General, Tom Miller, returned a $10,000 contribution that he received in 1995 from Peter DeCoster, the son of Jack DeCoster. The DeCosters’ factory egg farm has been identified as the source of the recent salmonella outbreak. DeCoster had been on the state’s habitual offenders list until the contribution to Miller’s campaign was made.

As soon as the Fort Dodge and DeCoster contributions became a liability, Culver and Miller quickly returned them. However, not all Iowa Democrats are so quick to return the tainted money that they have received.

On Thursday, Phyllis and Marla Stevens will plead guilty to criminal charges for embezzling nearly six million from Aviva USA, a Des Moines-based insurance company that employed Phyllis Stevens.

The Stevenses, who are a married lesbian couple, made more than $175,000 in political contributions during the 2006, 2008, and 2010 election cycles. Marla Stevens served as the policy director for the LGBT Fairness Fund, a gay rights group. The couple also created a political action committee of their own called the Rainbow Equality PAC. Phyllis Stevens is identified as the chairperson for Rainbow Equality in documents filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

The couple has made contributions totaling $17,980 to the Iowa Democratic Party. The Stevenses gave the Iowa Democratic Party $10,000 in October of 2008, and made three contributions in August of 2009 totaling $7,500. Those contributions were made just one month before the two of them were arrested at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Phyllis and Marla Stevens made contributions totaling $161,043 to federal campaigns and committee. They donated to Democratic presidential candidates including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, and President Obama.

In addition to a number of out-of-state congressional candidates, they also contributed $3,925 to Congressman Leonard Boswell and $1,000 to Congressman Bruce Braley.

The couple has also given to a number of current state legislators either directly or through the Rainbow Equality PAC. The list of current legislators who received contributions from the Stevenses include:

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal – Democrat
Senate President Jack Kibbie – Democrat

Speaker of the House Pat Murphy – Democrat
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy – Democrat
Assistant Majority Leader Joe Bolkcom – Democrat
Senator Matt McCoy – Democrat
Assistant Majority Leader Elesha Gayman – Democrat
Assistant Majority Leader Ako Abdul Samad – Democrat
Assistant Majority Leader Sharon Steckman – Democrat
Representative Mary Masher – Democrat
Representative Cindy Winckler – Democrat
Representative Gene Ficken – Democrat
Representative Vicki Lensing – Democrat
Representative Beth Wessel-Kroechell – Democrat
Representative John Beard – Democrat
Representative Charles Isenhart – Democrat
Representative Dave Jacoby – Democrat
Representative Deborah Berry – Democrat
Representative Bruce Hunter – Democrat
Representative Kerry Burt – Democrat

The money that Phyllis and Marla Stevens contributed to these Iowa politicians wasn’t theirs to give. It was stolen. If the mere appearance of impropriety caused Governor Culver and Attorney General Miller to return contributions that they had received, there should be a lot of Iowa Democrats cutting checks to Aviva USA or the appropriate authorities now that the Stevenses have plead guilty.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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