Harkin Scandal

January 30th, 2013

Braley to announce for Harkin seat, Dems wonder where Harkin money lands

WASHINGTON—National Democrats have coalesced around Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, as the anointed candidate to replace Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sources in both the Republican and Democratic parties told TheIowaRepublican.com Wednesday. Braley is set to announce he’s running for higher office Friday.

Braley has launched an effort on his campaign website to “tell Senator Harkin thank you!” The virtual card’s actual purpose is the capture the name, email address and zip code of potential supporters.

The National Democratic Senatorial Committee, Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, has quietly contacted other potential Iowa candidates and Democratic operatives to inform them that the party will tacitly support Braley, a trial lawyer by trade, for the race. Former Gov. Chet Culver, Christie Vilsack and other liberals have been mentioned as potential candidates for the first open seat Senate contest in Iowa since 1974.

Harkin, however, has groomed Braley as his chosen sucessor for six years. Iowa’s junior senator considers the Brooklyn, Iowa native a “prairie populist” in the mold of former Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and other in-your-face liberals.

Reps. Tom Latham, R-Clive, and Steve King, R-Kiron, also are contemplating a bid for higher office, potentially setting up a chain reaction that could lead to competitive races in three of Iowa’s four congressional districts, the U.S. Senate, the seven statewide races, the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate.

News of Harkin’s retirement started trickling down to lobbyists and liberal operatives in Washington connected to Sen. Harkin Friday evening. Harkin, 73, announced his retirement at Saturday’s meeting of the Iowa Democratic Paty’s state central committee after an interview with Associated Press reporter Tom Beaumont.

Braley, who demurred on a possible Senate bid during the taping of “Iowa Press” Friday, has started lining up support for a Senate bid. Harkin’s finance director, Jeremy Gold, and his chief political consultant, Jeff Link, already manage Braley’s political operations.

In an item headlined “Harkin staffers eye the door,” Politico reported that Washington, D.C. public affairs firms have started wooing Harkin’s policy aides for high-profile lobbying and campaign gigs.

“Sen. Tom Harkin’s impending retirement was the talk of the town all weekend and left many downtown wondering how quickly they’ll start to jump ship,” Politico reported. “There is already a well-worn path of former staffers to the Iowa Democrat who have made the jump, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, [including] Bill Burton, who recently moved to Global Strategy Group after heading the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action.”

Sen. Harkin indicated in an interview with the Washington Post that partisan conflicts in the Senate contributed to his decision to retire. He also lamented the challenges of fundraising for his Senate campaign.

“The time is so consumed with raising money now, these campaigns, that you don’t’ have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time,” Harkin said. “So in that way, fun, I don’t know, there needs to be more time for senators to establish personal relationships than what we are able to do at this point in time.”

Harkin’s supposed distaste for fundraising didn’t stop him from scheduling a fundraiser next month in Washington, D.C. at a Lady Gaga concert. It’s also a topic on the mind of Iowa and national Democrats as they plan for a difficult 2014 cycle where $50 million or more could be spent on federal and state campaigns.

Speculation has focused on what Sen. Harkin will do with the $2.8 million in has campaign account now that he has announced his retirement. In past years, Harkin has contributed millions of dollars to the Iowa Democrats’ statewide coordinated campaigns.

In the 2008 cycle, Harkin raised $9.2 million. His Republican opponent, Chris Reed, only managed to raise $59,000, freeing up Harkin’s campaign to transfer money to the Iowa Democratic Party to use on other federal and state races.

Senate and Iowa Democrats are lobbying Harkin to transfer the bulk of the funds to either the state party’s federal account, which can accept unlimited donations, and Majority PAC, a Senate-focused super PAC run by former aides to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Harkin, however, is strongly considering donating the lion’s share of the funds to the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State University. Harkin’s wife Ruth orchestrated the institute’s approval in April 2011 over vocal objections from Republicans. The institute, which had an initial goal of $10 million, has only raised $1.6 million (not including $1.5 million in pledges). Fundraising has screeched to a halt after media organizations scrutinized the relationship between Harkin and corporate donors with business before Harkin’s committees.

Former ISU President Greg Geoffroy, the Harkin Institute’s advisory board chair, sent out an email this week canceling the board meeting planned for Feb. 4, when the Harkin Institute is hosting a symposium on political data, research and journalism focused on explaining the 2012 elections. The next board meeting isn’t scheduled until mid-March. ISU President Steven Leath has announced he will reshuffle the board to put his stamp on the institute after Geoffroy bypassed Leath to appoint Ruth Harkin to the board.

The Harkins have threatened to move the institute to Drake University or another location because Pres. Leath has instructed the institute to collaborate with other ISU centers on research. Pulling out of Iowa State, Harkin’s alma mater, would be an embarrassing blow to Harkin as he is trying to cement his legacy of four decades of liberal policymaking at the federal level.

ISU Foundation officials have told the Harkin’s and their fundraisers that they are on their own for securing and soliciting donors for the Harkin Institute.

Harkin now faces a crucial decision: shore up the faltering Harkin Institute with a nearly $3 million infusion of funds, which would infuriate Iowa Democrats, or give the bulk of the money to Iowa Democrats, which could pound the final nail in the coffin of his monument to himself.

update: desmoinesdem at Bleeding Heartland reports that Braley huddled with Democrats today at the State Capitol:

Representative Bruce Braley braved some pretty bad winter weather this morning to meet with Iowa House and Senate Democrats at the state capitol. I haven’t seen any details about his remarks, which were closed to the public and media. No doubt he is trying to gain early backing for a U.S. Senate candidacy. State Senator Steve Sodders posted on Facebook and twitter today, “Great morning speech today by Congressman Braley…I’m a supporter.” Sodders represents Iowa Senate district 36, which is part of the first Congressional district where Braley just won a fourth term in the U.S. House.

After the meeting, Braley told reporters that he’s receiving encouragement from state and national Democrats to run:

“If I do decide to do something like this, I’m going to need their advice, their support and their help,” Braley told reporters. “I’m going to need them to introduce me to their friends, their neighbors, their constituents — but that’s still a long way off… I have received calls from Senator Reid, Senator Bennett, in getting involved in a race like this.”

second update: a Braley spokesman gives a non-denial denial to TheIowaRepublican.com’s report to the Telegraph Herald on announcement timing:

On Wednesday afternoon, a story on the conservative blog The Iowa Republican cited sources in both parties reporting Braley will announce a run for higher office on Friday.

When asked about the report, Braley’s communications director, Jeff Giertz, said Braley has no such plan at this time.

“Rep. Braley continues to carefully consider a candidacy for U.S. Senate with his family. There are no immediate plans to announce any decision on Friday,” Giertz said.

About the Author

Jeff Patch
Jeff Patch is a correspondent for TheIowaRepublican.com. He's a communications, research and political consultant for Iowa candidates, causes and companies. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at] theiowarepublican.com.

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