Harkin Scandal

January 8th, 2013

Gov. Branstad criticizes secrecy at Harkin Institute


DES MOINES—Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) weighed in on the developing secrecy scandal at the Iowa State University-based Harkin Institute during his weekly conference with Iowa journalists Monday.

“On the issue of transparency, I’ve tried to lead by example,” said Branstad, whose administration permanently archives all emails and correspondence for  scrutiny by journalists and citizens.

Last summer Branstad appointed former newspaperman Bill Monroe to chair a nine-member board tasked with investigating complaints of public records violations and making sure Iowans have access to records under the state’s freedom of information laws. The board, authorized by the state legislature, met last month and plans to consider open records policies at Regent universities in the future, according to the board’s minutes.

“I will respect the fact that the universities are governed by the Board of Regents,” Branstad said. “But I believe it would be wise for them—they are also a public body—to do what they can to improve transparency as well. [Regent universities] are supported by taxpayer dollars, and the citizens have the right to know that kind of information.”

A spokesman added that Branstad has long questioned the wisdom of naming a state policy organization after a sitting politician, and recent developments seem to validate those concerns.

“The Governor shares the same concerns that were raised all the way back to the rushed process that allowed the institute to begin with,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said. “The Governor always advocates openness and transparency, and obviously this new information is troubling.”

Iowa State University’s policy of allowing individuals to delete their emails and only save back-ups for 30 days seems unique in state-funded institutions, according to a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services. Former ISU President Greg Geoffroy, who now chairs the Harkin Institute’s advisory board, implemented the policy before he left office.

Each state agency sets its own policy regarding longevity of email records, DAS spokesman Caleb Hunter said. But Hunter said that the shortest policy he’s aware of still requires agencies to save correspondence for at least six months.

[editor's note: the above graphic is a photo illustration; the redactions were made by TheIowaRepublican.com]

About the Author

Jeff Patch
Jeff Patch is an editor and muckraker at TheIowaRepublican.com. He's a principal at Concordia Group, a Des Moines-based public affairs firm, and a central committee member of the Polk County GOP, Iowa's largest county Republican party organization. Patch started his media career as a production assistant at the now-defunct FOX News affiliate in Dubuque, his hometown. He has written for the Telegraph Herald, The Daily Iowan, the Des Moines Register, Politico.com, The Wall Street Journal and Reason.com. Patch has also worked as a press secretary for a Member of Congress, a fiscal policy analyst for the Cato Institute and as the communications director for a libertarian campaign finance think tank. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at] theiowarepublican.com.

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