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May 24th, 2010

Vander Plaats’ Tenure at Opportunities Unlimited Continues to Haunt Campaign

In last week’s Des Moines Register debate, Bob Vander Plaats claimed that former Governor Branstad told him in March of 2000 that the best way to defeat an incumbent is to “not have a record.” Vander Plaats tried to use his recollection of that meeting ten years ago to attack Branstad, inferring that the former governor’s 16-year record will be an albatross in this fall’s general election.

While it is true that Vander Plaats doesn’t have a voting recorded to defend, that doesn’t mean he is without a record that could be used against him. In citing the March 2000 meeting, Vander Plaats reminded voters of his own political record, that he has unsuccessfully run for governor twice before.

For over a decade, Bob Vander Plaats has been seeking the Republican nomination for governor and has yet to find success. In fact, Vander Plaats has been running for office almost as long as Branstad has been out of office.

In the closing weeks of the 2010 campaign, Vander Plaats will now have to contend with another part of his record. Yesterday, the Sioux City Journal ran a story about Vander Plaats’ tenure at the Sioux City-based Opportunities Unlimited (OU) from 1997 through 2003. The article raises questions about Vander Plaats’ leadership and commitment to the organization.

Jackie Kibbie-Williams, a former board member of Opportunities Unlimited, and the person who succeeded Vander Plaats as the CEO of the organization, said that Vander Plaats was fired. Kibbie-Williams told the Sioux City Journal, “He wasn’t producing, so he lost his job.”

The Sioux City Journal also spoke to another person that is close to Opportunities Unlimited and who has knowledge of Vander Plaats’ role with the organization. That person backed up Kibbie-Williams’ claim. Even long-time supporter of Vander Plaats and former OU board member, Kim Hoogeveen, stopped short of saying that Kibbie-Williams’ statement wasn’t true. Hoogeveen told the Journal, “I’m going to leave that between those two.”

This is not the first time Vander Plaats’ leadership of Opportunities Unlimited has been questioned. Last September, then-gubernatorial candidate Christopher Rants took issue with Vander Plaats calling himself a turn-around CEO. Rants’ campaign sent out a press release showing the financial decline of Opportunities Unlimited during Vander Plaats’ tenure. In it, Rants said, “Once again, what Mr. Vander Plaats says might sound good in a stump speech, but the facts tell a very different story. Budget deficits and more debt show his record is just like Chet Culver’s.”

Rants added, “The facts show Opportunities Unlimited tanked financially during Vander Plaats’ tenure as CEO and Chairman. According to a review of Opportunities Unlimited tax returns, during Vander Plaats’ tenure as CEO starting in 97 to when he was dismissed as Chairman in 03, the organization went from a $471,455 operating surplus to a $630,655 deficit, and total operating revenue dropped from $4.2 million to $3.9 million. Public support for the charity dropped from $550,211 to $27,672. End of year net assets were largely unchanged, but long-term debt doubled from $2.4 million to $4.7 million.”

Last fall when Rants first brought up this issue, Eric Woolson sent out an email saying, “Bob Vander Plaats did not serve as CEO of Opportunities Unlimited from 1997 to 2003 as Christopher Rants states. Vander Plaats’ tenure was from February 1996 to December 31, 2000. That fact alone will affect the numbers that Mr. Rants provided to you and, therefore, anything you publish based on that release is wholly incorrect.”

The Vander Plaats campaign never disputed the numbers that Rants cited, only the fact that Vander Plaats didn’t have the title of CEO from 2001 thru 2003. While it is true that he didn’t have the title of CEO, Vander Plaats remained with the organization, and was compensated like he was the CEO. In fact, Vander Plaats held the highest paid position with the organization while serving as its Chairman. He was paid $94,744 in 2000/01. $82,340 on 2001/02, and $76,190 in 2002/03, the years that the Vander Plaats campaign has refused to speak about.
Last September, Kim Hoogeveen, gave a much stronger defense of Vander Plaats than he gave to the Sioux City Journal yesterday. Last fall, Hoogeveen said, “Under Bob Vander Plaats’ day-to-day leadership, OU’s net assets rose from $621,000 to $2.69 million between fiscal year 1996 and fiscal year 2000 – a 430-percent increase – as evidenced by audited statements. During that period of time: OU went from having 54 pages of cited deficiencies to being deficiency free; Bob was awarded the JoAnn Kramer Award presented to Iowa’s Best Brain Injury Services Advocate; Bob was appointed by Governor Branstad to serve on Governor’s Council for Brain Injury – a council he chaired from 1997-99; and OU received the highest accreditation by Commission on Accreditation for Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).”

Yet, like the Vander Plaats campaign, Hoogeveen simply ignores the three years where Vander Plaats was still the highest paid employee and where the organization got into financial trouble.

WHO Radio show host, Steve Deace, a vocal Vander Plaats supporter and surrogate, had former State Auditor Richard Johnson come on to his show last fall to defend Vander Plaats. While on the show, Johnson only talked about the years that Vander Plaats carried the title of CEO, he ignored the actual years that were in question.

Deace later took the documents to his “forensic auditor,” who concluded that the numbers can back up what Rants was alleging or what Vander Plaats had claimed happened – that the organization was in debt because it was in the midst of a building campaign.

There is no doubt that the Vander Plaats campaign would prefer to not have to deal with this issue during the closing days of the 2010 primary. Had Vander Plaats answered the questions that Rants raised more directly last fall, it’s unlikely that this would be an issue today.
Instead, they opted to attack Rants for not properly stating that he wasn’t CEO in the three years that he was questioning. The issue went away last fall, mainly because nobody form Opportunities Unlimited would go on the record to back up Rants’ claim. Had the Vander Plaats campaign confronted the allegations head on last September, there is no way that the story could have been resurrected.

The Vander Plaats campaign has had a hay-day picking out bits and pieces of Terry Branstad’s 16-year record. They refuse to look at what the former governor was able to accomplish during his entire 16 years in office. To their credit, the Vander Plaats campaign has remained consistent.

As in his attacks on Branstad, Vander Plaats only likes to talk about part of his record while involved with Opportunities Unlimited. If Vander Plaats is unable to answer these allegations regarding his record swiftly and directly, that will undermine all of his attacks on Branstad’s record and will be a damaging blow at a critical time in this primary election.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, 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 TheIowaRepublican.com 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, TheIowaRepublcian.com. 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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