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August 21st, 2011
 

Political Thuggery

On Tuesday, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) filed an ethics complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board against Brent Rastetter, who was appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad in May to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC).  The rabid environmental advocacy group claims that Rastetter has an impermissible conflict of interest in serving on the Commission while at the same time managing Quality Ag, his confinement construction company.

The ethics complaint claims that “Rastetter’s presence on the board damages the integrity and credibility of the EPC—and by extension all of state government—and the Iowa CCI members demand Rastetter either resign from the EPC immediately or ‘cease outside employment or activity’, pursuant to Section 68B.2A(2)(c) of the Iowa Code.

The complaint points out that Section 68B.2A(2)(c) states that:  “Any person who serves or is employed by the state or a political subdivision of the state shall not engage in…outside employment or activity that is subject to the official control, inspection, review, audit, or enforcement authority of the person, during the performance of the person’s duties of office or employment.”

Looks like they got him dead to rights.  It’s a wonder that such a conflict of interest slipped pass the governor’s staff, confirmation hearings in the senate, and the media.  Thank goodness CCI was there to save the “integrity and credibility” of the entire state government.

Just imagine how much more “integrity and credibility” they could preserve if they only filed more ethical complaints.  Oh wait…it turns out they have quite the history of being serial complainers, the vast majority of which have been groundless.  In fact, they filed a nearly identical complaint against EPC member Heidi Vittetoe on September 4, 2003.

They had alleged that Vittetoe had a conflict of interest because:  (1) she “co-owns and/or operates several large-scale hog facilities that will most likely be subject to regulation,” and (2) “Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recently given [her company a] notice of violation of four state environmental rules.”

Surely, given such an open and shut case, the Ethics Board must have immediately kicked Vittetoe off the EPC for clearly violating Iowa law.  Not exactly.  At its December 3, 2003, meeting, the Board unanimously voted to dismiss the CCI complaint.  But how could this be?  How could the Board’s three Republican members and three Democrat members turn such a blind eye to the law?

Turns out that Iowa Code Section 455A.6 requires that “three [EPC] members [be] actively engaged in livestock and grain farming.”  As the Ethics Board noted, “Heidi Vittetoe [was] one of the three and as such was specifically put on the commission as a voting farmer member.”

Wait a minute…state law mandates that three farmers with potential conflicts of interests serve on the EPC?  A quick check of the EPC’s website reveals that there are in fact two other farmers on the Commission—Nancy Couser and former state representative Delores Mertz (D).  Then why is it that CCI isn’t filing ethics charges against these farmers as well, especially since they had already (unsuccessfully) done so against Mertz when she was chair of the House Agriculture Committee?

And how is it possible that any farmer could serve on a regulatory body such as the EPC given Iowa Code Section 68B.2A’s prohibition against conflicts of interests?  In fact, doesn’t that section, as CCI noted in its complaint, require that a person with such a conflict “immediately cease the employment or activity”?

Actually, Iowa law doesn’t require a person to choose between serving on the EPC or farming.  Section 68B.2A specifically allows individuals with actual conflicts of interest to remain in office provided they “publicly disclose the existence of the conflict and refrain from taking any official action or performing any official duty that would detrimentally affect or create a benefit for the outside employment or activity.”

But didn’t Rastetter fail to do this when, as CCI claims, he “and the new EPC board voted to scrap an important rulemaking package to implement the federal Clean Water Act in Iowa after nearly 30 years of noncompliance”?  Funny, press reports at the time had a different take on the June 21st meeting:

At issue was a permitting requirement that mandated operators of confined animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, obtain a Department of Natural Resources permit before they could discharge animal waste.

The state was expected to adopt the federal regulations – which were approved in 2008 – but those federal regulations were overturned in a federal appellate court in March.  So the commission decided it would wait until the new federal rules came out before they voted, which is what the vote accomplished. […]

DNR Attorney Randy Clark said state law requires that the department’s rules cannot be stricter than federal regulations.  He said when the Environmental Protection Agency comes up with new permitting rules, the committee will consider adopting them then.

In the meantime, he said, current state rules don’t allow for confinement operations to have any discharge.  “The operators have to have filters in place to prevent that,” he said.  “So that’s how it remains.”

So, in the end, it turns out the only “integrity and credibility” that was damaged was CCI’s when they filed groundless ethics charges in an act of political thuggery.  Though it comes as no great surprise, the mainstream media sadly failed to do any kind of fact checking in repeating CCI’s slander, and doubtless they will fail to report on the Ethics Board’s eventual dismissal of the charges.

In contrast, the environmentally-friendly blog Bleeding Heartland put aside ideological camaraderie with CCI and found its ethics complaint largely wanting.  In fact, they even promised to report on the Ethic Board’s ultimate decision.  Too bad the mainstream media doesn’t have similar “integrity and credibility”…

 

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at nathanwt@juno.com.




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