By Craig Robinson
It’s ironic that the Des Moines Register’s editorial board and the paper’s political columnist continue to cry over Sen. Tom Harkin’s decision not house his papers at Iowa State University. First, nobody has ever been able to define for us what those papers actually are, and secondly, the reason the deal blew up is because Sen. Harkin behaved like a three-year old.
Considering how the Senator conducted himself, a better fit for his papers would be a pre-school, not an institution of higher learning.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Register doesn’t understand what really happened between the Harkins and Iowa State University officials. While the Register was quick to report any complaint that Sen. Harkin had of Iowa State University or certain members of the Board of Regents, they simply chose not to report on the real scandal that plagued the Harkin Institute.
While the Register was busy being Sen. Harkin’s hit man, the paper failed to report on a Korean firm that donated big money to the institute, which also happened to be lobbying congress to switch from dollar bills to dollar coins, a concept that Harkin has championed. The Korean firm operates a Cedar Rapids division that has received more than $1.5 billion in federal contracts since 2000—partly thanks to Harkin’s influence. This company, and it’s CEO Jin Roy Ryu, are the Harkin Institute’s largest donors.
The Register also ignored another controversy, this time involving Herbalife, a global nutrition and weight management company that also has business before congress. Herbalife pledged $100,000 to the Harkin Institute following a meeting with Harkin in Beverly Hills, California. Again, a cooperation that stood to benefit financially from congressional action contributing to the Harkin Institute could be seen as an act to gain favor with the Senator.
The meeting itself raised additional ethical questions for Harkin, as neither he, nor his wife Ruth, are permitted to solicit funds for the institute. This is another aspect that Des Moines Register chose to ignore. To their credit, the Register did publish two items from the Associated Press that raised these concerns, but it’s telling that the paper never instructed its own staff to investigate or even report on the matter.
The Register’s cozy relationship with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI), a liberal lynch mob like the Register, has also been on full display. Anyone who has ever seen ICCI in action would write them off as a bunch of goons, but the Register treats them as is they are of the same ilk as the AARP. Like clockwork, the Register publishes ICCI op-ed pieces that either parrot Harkin or the paper’s views or attack Iowa State University or the Republican members of the Board of Regents.
ICCI’s actions are comical if you follow them. One month the group will be calling for Regent Bruce Rastetter to be fired because of one of his corporate dealings, but the next month they turn a blind eye and defend Harkin, despite real investigations by the Associated Press and other news outlets that raise real concerns. The group says they want transparency, but when news organizations used freedom of information requests to provide the public with real transparency of Harkin’s actions, they didn’t want anything to do with it.
It was also most comical to read the Register’s reaction to the news that Harkin was pulling out of his deal with Iowa State University. First they called for a “time out,” and now they are saddened and ashamed of how this all went down and is being perceived across the state and country.
The reason the Harkin Institute no longer exists is not because Iowa State University or Regents like Craig Lang and Rastetter somehow wanted to limit academic freedom. The Institute also didn’t fail because Republicans were opposed to it and finally succeeded in dismantling it. No, the reason the Harkin Institute failed is because Sen. Tom Harkin doesn’t want to explain his role in raising the money for the institute, which is probably illegal.
If the Harkin Institute has any future at all, it’s going to be at a private university instead of one of the state’s regent universities. It’s not because of the political nature of the Board of Regents, rather, it’s because moving it to a private university means that organizations like the Associated Press or TheIowaRepublican.com will no longer be able to provide the public transparency in regards to who is donating what to the institution and when they are donating it because private institutions do not have to comply with freedom of information requests.
The only reason Sen. Harkin is not going to house his papers at Iowa State University is because he either has something to hide, or he wants all the scrutiny to go away. The academic freedom argument he and the Register have been making is only a distraction and an excuse to renege on the deal he has made with his alma mater.
The Des Moines Register shouldn’t be sad that the Harkin Institute will not be housed at Iowa State University. They should be mad that they got played by a U.S. Senator running away from a scandal.
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