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April 19th, 2012

Iowa GOP Needs to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

Written by David Chung
Member of Republican State Central Committee
Second Congressional District

In 2008, I was elected to my first term on the Republican State Central Committee (SCC) to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. At the time, I promised that while serving on the SCC, I would not endorse a candidate during a primary or caucus, and that I would not accept money from any candidate, candidate’s committee or special interest group. When my good friend, Christian Fong, ran for governor, I kept my promise and resigned from the SCC so that I could endorse him. In 2010, I was re-elected to the SCC and once again I made the same promise.

Many people have asked my opinion on other SCC members endorsing or working for candidates or PACs. I have always said that those SCC members who have taken a different position on these issues are honorable people; they will recuse themselves from voting on issues affecting their candidate or employer. I said that I have set this standard for myself but that I do not require anyone else to follow it.

During this caucus season my thinking has completely changed. I am no longer willing to support the status quo. As Iowa Republicans go to their district conventions this weekend, I am urging each one to reject any candidate for SCC who will not promise to remain neutral in primaries and not take money from candidates or PACs. In this editorial, I would like to share with you some examples of how the actions of certain SCC members created an actual conflict of interest. I do not pretend to know whether the SCC members involved acted maliciously or simply ignorantly. In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter; their actions undermined the credibility of our process, caused confusion and distrust among the grassroots, and may even contribute to losing the First in the Nation Caucus.

This term there were 4 SCC members who worked as paid campaign staff. Drew Ivers, David Fischer and AJ Spiker worked for the Paul campaign and Wes Enos worked for the Bachmann campaign. An additional 3 members made public endorsements. Jeremiah Johnson and David Mills endorsed Ron Paul and National Committeewoman Kim Lehman endorsed Rick Santorum.

Here are some examples conflicts of interest or possible conflicts of interest have arisen in this SCC term.

1)     The Ames Straw Poll. One of the important decisions the SCC made leading up to the Ames Straw Poll was about the ballot. The biggest question was whether to include Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, neither of whom was an announced candidates. There was also the issue of including candidates who were not actively participating in the event, like Mitt Romney and including candidates who were not polling well in Iowa like Fred Karger or Thaddeus McCotter. In this case the affected SCC members did recuse themselves but of the 17 voting SCC members only 12 (as I remember it) were able to participate in this critical decision. These SCC members acted entirely properly in this matter however their recusal took nearly 1/3 of the committee out of the process and at least theoretically did not allow their constituents’ voices to be heard on this important issue.

2)     The certified caucus results. After the certified results were released, many expected that, then RPI Chairman, Matt Strawn would clearly articulate a reversal of the caucus night announcement and declare Rick Santorum the winner of the Iowa Caucuses. When that did not happen, an emergency, ‘informal conference call of the SCC was called’. (Since SCC meetings require 10 days notice, this was an informal non-binding conversation.) It was later that I discovered, this call had been requested by our National Committeewoman, Kim Lehman, who had been contacted directly by the Santorum campaign. During the discussion, the ‘sense of the committee’ was that RPI needed to make a clear statement that Rick Santorum was the winner of the Iowa Caucuses. The only objection came from Drew Ivers, head of Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign, who asked whether we were trying to influence the South Carolina vote the next day. The action in favor of Rick Santorum was initiated by the SCC member who had publicly endorsed him and the only objection was raised by an SCC member who was an employee of a rival campaign.

3)     National delegate selection. I was approached by a Republican in the 1st Congressional District who asked whether we would be voting on national delegates at our district convention. I explained to her that even though the RPI Constitution declares that national delegates are to be selected at the district convention, the SCC had voted to continue the practice of electing delegates at a reconvened district convention held in Des Moines the night before the state convention. The vote on the SCC was a close one and no one recused themself from participating.

The Friday night nominating convention never made sense to me. Why not select national delegates at the district convention (as required by the RPI constitution) when you have the largest turnout of district delegates? The Friday night meeting is a pain for those who live some distance from Des Moines and the turnout is always significantly less than the regular district convention. The real answer is that by making it difficult to attend, the nominating process can (and has always has been) controlled by a small group of individuals who hand pick our national delegation. Given the Paul campaign’s ongoing strategy of fighting for every delegate at convention, Paul staffers and those who had publicly endorsed him should have recused themselves form this crucial vote. The ramifications of this decision could have been huge if 2012 was going to be a ‘brokered’ convention.

These are three specific examples where the conflicting loyalties of SCC members has affected decisions made by the Republican Party of Iowa. When it comes time to elect SCC members at District Conventions this Saturday, every Republican should demand that their leaders put the interests of their constituents and the Republican Party ahead of personal gain.

About the Author

The Iowa Republican

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