When an employee of Link Strategies was arrested Friday for trying to steal the Iowa Secretary of State’s identity, it was not the first time the Democrat consultant group was investigated for criminal activity aimed at tearing down a Republican opponent. Back in 2002, while Link Strategies was running Tom Harkin’s senatorial campaign, the group was involved in an infamous “taping” scandal.
The 2002 incident became one of the most talked about stories in Iowa politics that year. A Harkin campaign staffer arranged to have a supporter tape-record a private strategy session conducted by Harkin’s Republican opponent, Greg Ganske. The staffer then turned a transcript of the meeting over to a Des Moines Register reporter. That incident quickly turned into a black eye for the Harkin campaign and Link Strategies.
At first, Jeff Link, Harkin’s campaign manager and the founder of Link Strategies, denied having any knowledge of the recording and transcript. Later, he blamed the incident on a low level staffer who acted on his own. That is the same stance Link is taking with Zach Edwards’ alleged crime. Both times, the lower level staffer was fired.
Harkin also denied any knowledge of the taping or the transcript, calling the incident a “Dennis the Menace caper” and blaming it on “one young staffer”. However, Harkin relieved Jeff Link of his campaign manager duties. The parting did not last. Link returned to the helm for Harkin’s 2008 senate campaign.
Following a criminal investigation, no charges were filed in the 2002 incident. The current case is a different story. Zach Edwards, who was the director of new media for Link Strategies, faces up to two years in prison. The criminal complaint against Edwards says he tried to steal the identity of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and/or Schultz’ brother Thomas, for the purpose of framing Secretary Schultz for unethical or illegal behavior.
Jeff Link quickly tried to distance himself and his company from Zach Edwards. Link told the Des Moines Register that he fired Edwards shortly after the arrest. “After gathering further information it is clear the incident involved in the allegation was related to a personal action taken by Zach and unrelated to his work with Link Strategies,” he told the paper. Link also claimed his firm “holds itself to a high bar of ethics and professionalism, and this type of activity is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Link Strategies’ ties to top Iowa Democrats run deep. First District Congressman Bruce Braley paid the group $167,237 in 2009-10. According to reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, the campaign for Secretary of Agriculture candidate Francis Thicke paid Link Strategies $100,000 during his unsuccessful 2010 run. Attorney General Tom Miller’s campaign paid the firm $1,200 on November 5, 2010.
The Des Moines-based consulting group also provided research to Chet Culver’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Link Strategies alum Matt Paul is the communications director for the USDA, run by former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Paul was also Vilsack’s Iowa press secretary.
Link Strategies is also on the payroll of Democrats around the country. “Since 2004, Link Strategies handled research for the several successful campaigns including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH), Governor Chet Culver (D-IA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and several other U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and congressional candidates,” the group’s website claims.
Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was also a beneficiary of the services of Link Strategies. Zach Edwards was the director of new media for Obama’s Iowa general election campaign and also worked in several primary states. Jeff Link “served as a media consultant to the Obama campaign, coordinating branding, all paid media and polling in 25 states.” Brad Anderson, also a member of the Link Strategies team, was Obama’s Iowa communications director for the 2008 general election.