Harkin Scandal

February 1st, 2013

Harkin issues ultimatum to ISU on Harkin Institute guidelines

JOHNSTON, Iowa—Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Friday that he would renege on his offer to donate his papers to Iowa State University if president Steven Leath did not lift research guidelines on the Harkin Institute of Public Policy.

Leath, who was attending a Big 12 Conference meeting Friday, was unavailable for comment. He announced last month that he plans to reappoint the Institute’s advisory board, which cancelled their planned meeting for Monday. Harkin’s comments set up a showdown with Iowa State’s administration, which has clashed with Harkin’s political allies over the scope of the institute.

Harkin addressed the controversy surrounding his namesake policy center on the taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.” Soon after Harkin’s post-taping press conference, The Associated Press published a story detailing an effort by Harkin’s top fundraiser to direct ISU officials to a list of potential donors.

“Harkin has at times tried to distance himself from the institute by noting the university operates it. But emails obtained by The Associated Press under the public records law show Jeremy Gold, his campaign’s finance director, suggested revisions to a fundraising brochure at Harkin’s request and gave ISU’s charitable foundation a list of people and corporations who could be solicited,” according to The Associated Press report.  “Gold sent the list to ISU Foundation Vice President Larissa Holtmyer Jones on Oct. 31, writing, ‘I understand that you will share with the appropriate individuals.’”

“Iowa Press” panelists, including Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich, Radio Iowa news director O. Kay Henderson, and moderator Dean Borg, spent nearly a third of the 30-minute session questioning Harkin on the institute. Harkin did not rule out donating part of his $2.8 million campaign account to his institute, assuming that he doesn’t move the center to Drake University or another institution. 

“I feel I have an obligation not to leave my papers anywhere where there would be restrictions on it, on my papers or on the research that may be done with them,” Harkin said. “I want full, unfettered academic freedom for my papers. To this extent, that has not been forthcoming from the president of Iowa State.”

“All I can control are my papers,” Harkin added. “This is my property. This is my life.” 

Iowa’s junior senator also addressed the race among Democrats to succeed him noting that Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, is not his “heir apparent” but conceded that he encouraged the Waterloo attorney to run for the seat.

Harkin stressed that his Iowa media tour is not a valedictory or legacy project, noting that he will serve for two more years—“a lifetime for a Congressman.” In 2015 Harkin said he intends to work in policy advocacy for Americans with disabilities.

Harkin said his committee, with jurisdiction over health care, education, labor and pension policy, will hold hearings on a new federal pension system, an elementary education law, a higher education act, and a bill addressing employment of people with disabilities. Harkin also said his staff would continue its constituent services operations, touting the filing of its 100,000th case.

Iowa Press” airs tonight at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and Sunday at noon on Iowa Public Television. Next week, the show will feature Democratic Party of Iowa chairman Tyler Olson, a state representative from Cedar Rapids, and Republican Party of Iowa chairman A.J. Spiker, a real estate broker from Ames.

Transcript excerpts from Harkin’s post-taping press conference:

Harkin: I’m not passing the torch sitting down. I intend to pass it as a running relay.

TIR: Will you continue to raise funds for your campaign—for example, you have a Lady Gaga concert fundraiser scheduled for next month in Washington, D.C.

Harkin: No… One of my deepest, darkest secrets: I’m a big Lady Gaga fan. [laughs] Actually, she is pretty good. But, no, I’m not going to be raising campaign funds. Now, I do have, to be honest, I have a—TOMPAC—it’s called: To Organize a Majority PAC, TOMPAC. And that is a leadership PAC. And I will be raising some funds for that; sure, it’s ethical.

TIR: Can you remain neutral if your general political consultant, Jeff Link, and your campaign’s finance director, Jeremy Gold, also work for Braley’s campaign?

Harkin: Well, … my fundraiser is Jeremy Gold. He’s worked for me for a long time. It comes as a surprise to me—I don’t think he’s working for Braley. [editor’s note: see this story in the Gazette: “A top Democratic fundraiser, Jeremy Gold, helped Braley raise money [] with a fundraising lunch at Sonoma, a Washington restaurant that serves organic food.”]

Well, I don’t know… Well, that’s something you know that maybe I don’t. I knew—I would suspect that Braley might want to hire him, I would think [laughs], but I don’t know that he’s done that. Well, I don’t know if that’s the case or not. And Jeff Link has, yes, been involved in my campaigns forever. He was my former chief of staff, and we remain very good friends—a trusted friend in Jeff Link, so he has good political sense.

TIR: Is it appropriate for your campaign to be soliciting money for the Harkin Institute at Iowa State? [editor’s note: see this Associated Press story detailing emails from Jeremy Gold to the Iowa State University Foundation]

Harkin: As far as I know, my campaign has not solicited any money for the Institute…

TIR: Have you directly solicited donations for the Harkin Institute from corporate CEOs?

Harkin: No. No, I have not. The answer to that is no. And I don’t know, I think—I’ll have to go back and see about this, this sending of names. I think there was some talk about who they might go to and talk to to raise money for the Institute. And, you know, let’s face it, I got a lot of people out there who are friendly to me and have helped me in the past. I’ll have to take a look at that. I’m not certain. But no, I haven’t solicited them, and I don’t—well, to the best of my knowledge, neither has Jeremy Gold.

TIR: So, you didn’t solicit a donation at the dinner in Beverly Hills with Herbalife executives?

Harkin’s Communications Director Kate Cyrul Frischmann: Next question, Jennifer; next question, [Des Moines Register political reporter] Jennifer Jacobs; next question. [crosstalk]

Harkin: Jeff, there’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve read that you’ve written, that others have written, that you know there’s a little snippet of truth and then you build things around it that just aren’t so—that just aren’t so. I know you’ve been attacking me for a long time. Hey, listen, I can take it. I can take it. I’ve been in this business for a long time. That’s alright. But, I’m not going to get engaged on a political discussion here on this—on this issue at all. I’ve always appreciated muckrakers, okay? [laughs] They have a role to play. I don’t mind that, but I’m not gonna take all my time here getting into who did this and what did this and all that kind of stuff. Anything else? [editor’s note: in honor of Sen. Harkin, Patch’s title has been changed to “muckraker”]

Gazette: Do you think your Senate seat will be strongly contested in 2014?

Harkin: My seat will be hotly contested. We haven’t had an open Senate seat since 1974. So, it’s gonna be a hotly contested seat. Certainly, I’m gonna be active in that. What the heck? I’m a Democrat, and I’m gonna support our party’s nominee, at least I think so, anyway, unless it’s somebody that’s way out of touch with everything—I don’t know… As long as the Democrats pick a very smart, savvy individual who knows how to organize a campaign, who can raise the money, I think we have every reason to believe that we can hold on to this Senate seat.

TIR: What kind of dance lessons are you and your wife going to take?

Harkin: What? [TIR repeats question] Well, you know, her folks—she’s from Minnesota—and her folks were great—oh, what’s the word—Polka? They could polka… I always wanted to learn to polka. It looks like a fun dance to me, and I’ve never done that. I have a staff person who’s been with me for 20 years—actually whose father teaches tango. I ‘m going to learn to tango, too.  I don’t know, look, maybe I can’t do it. Maybe, I just lack basic rhythm or something, I don’t know. But I’m going to try it. My wife’s been on me for 40 years to lean how to dance and take dance lessons. And, maybe I’ve always used my job as an excuse or something, I don’t know. It’s tough, you know, you set up something for Tuesday night or Thursday or Wednesday night, then you’re in session and you miss one, you miss two. But, look, I didn’t mean to go off on that.

update: Iowa Public Television has posted the video and transcript for “Iowa Press”

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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