This weekend, the GOP state central committee will meet in Ames to plot out the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll. Concerns are rising about potential conflicts of interest among some members. The state central committee’s sole role is to serve the Republican Party of Iowa. However, several members are actively involved in presidential campaigns.
Drew Ivers, David Fischer and A.J. Spiker comprise the leadership team for Ron Paul’s exploratory committee. Wes Enos is part of Michelle Bachmann’s staff. Their spots on the SCC could give their candidates an unfair advantage in debates, the Iowa Straw Poll, and the Iowa Caucus.
“No, I don’t believe it does,” said David Fischer when TheIowaRepublican.com asked him if his dual role as Ron Paul’s chairman and SCC member creates a conflict of interest. Fischer added that since Paul’s campaign is still in the exploratory phase, it is too soon to determine if he, Ivers and Spiker will be on Paul’s payroll.
Other SCC members disagree with Fischer. “My biggest thing is, anybody related to a campaign or exploratory committee should recuse themselves from voting on any of these matters related to the Straw Poll and Caucus,” said one state central committee member.
There is nothing in the SCC rules that prevents members from working on presidential campaigns. Perhaps there should be. Along with gaining a wide variety of useful, inside information, the SCC members have the ability to influence GOP events to favor their chosen candidates. The state central committee can help shape the criteria for which candidates are allowed to participate in debates and the Iowa Straw Poll.
For example, Ron Paul’s backers, including Campaign for Liberty member Jeremiah Johnson, make up 4 of the 17 votes for the SCC. If they can sway a few more members, they could easily devise a strategy to exclude fellow libertarian Gary Johnson from debates and the Straw Poll. They could try to set parameters based on poll numbers. If Johnson is polling below that set criteria, he would be excluded and Ron Paul could snatch up the entire libertarian-leaning voting bloc.
We are not saying Paul’s people would do that, but the possibility exists. We know Campaign for Liberty orchestrated a nationwide strategy to have its members elected to state central committees. Ron Paul has shown an uncanny knack for winning straw polls. He has won CPAC two years in a row and his new Iowa campaign director, Steve Bierfeldt, organized both of those victories.
Paul made it clear Tuesday that winning the Iowa Straw Poll is part of his overall strategy. “It’s very, very important,” he said. “Top four would be better than before. I think top three would be great, but our goal is to be number one.”
Another concern is the possibility of out-of-staters voting in the Straw Poll. That means placing safeguards on the event that insure everyone who votes is indeed an Iowan. That kind of system can be expensive. “My biggest issue is the integrity of the Iowa Straw Poll,” a SCC member told TheIowaRepublican.com. “It would kill it if people gamed the system.”
Money will be an issue this year. There is no candidate that will pour $1 million into the event, like Mitt Romney did in 2007. The Straw Poll is a vital fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa. There is a concern that some SCC members will suggest opening the event to out-of-staters, in order to make more money. If there enough votes on the committee, that could happen.
The Iowa GOP must be very careful to insure the legitimacy of the process. The stakes could not be higher. Forget the Iowa Caucus. The Straw Poll is the first true presidential contest of the season. It will make some campaigns and break others. We need to make sure it is done fairly.
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