Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker and RPI State Central Committee member Jamie Johnson discuss the RNC Growth & Opportunity Project last month at the Sioux County GOP central committee meeting in Orange City
DES MOINES—As the Republican Party of Iowa’s governing state central committee prepares to gather for its quarterly meeting tomorrow, tensions on the 18-member board have reemerged regarding the party’s financial stewardship and limited discussion of issues outside a tight-knit bubble of “liberty movement” allies. As diverse views in the party clash, its leaders are trying to figure out how to unite while addressing past missteps.
TheIowaRepublican.com has obtained a draft agenda for the meeting, which has raised concerns among some SCC members that party leaders plan a closed-door discussion of important matters to avoid scrutiny or criticism of its actions.
“The Chairman will entertain a motion to go into executive session to discuss” the party’s Federal Election Commission audit, the RNC Growth & Opportunity Project report and the SCC’s organization committee update on the caucus review committee’s recommendations, according to the draft letter by RPI Chairman A.J. Spiker dated March 25. In an email, Spiker said that he would prefer to not give RNC opponents of Iowa’s First in the Nation caucus status ammunition.
“It is certainly the decision of the [SCC], but due to ongoing politics at the RNC and the GOP Report, I would prefer the discussion be in executive session so the Iowa GOP is not broadcasting options to people who in the past have voted against Iowa’s First in the Nation status at the RNC,” Spiker wrote. “I do not anticipate votes from these two agenda items.”
The committee is also scheduled to discuss or hear reports from the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, the college Republicans, county party officials, reports from each congressional district and an update on RNC business from National Committeeman Steve Scheffler and National Committeewoman Tamara Scott—as well as Spiker.
The party typically goes into executive session to discuss sensitive personnel or financial matters, such as an FEC audit, but it’s rare for the party to go behind closed doors to discuss routine party business or an issue as important as the 2014 caucuses. The party’s committees will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at RPI headquarters in Des Moines followed by the full SCC meeting at 11 a.m.
The decision has raised concerns among multiple SCC members that the majority coalition of the SCC could subtly sway the party’s caucus planning to support Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a likely presidential contender in 2016. RPI announced a May 10 event with Sen. Paul in Cedar Rapids, and the party has used its social media accounts to promote his activities. Tensions among SCC members have cooled since Spiker’s re-election as chairman in January, but raw feelings still exist in some quarters that past Ron Paul staffers and supporters control every executive position at RPI and most SCC slots.
Some Republican donors, elected officials and key activists have lost confidence in RPI and, as a result, have stopped donating to the party. Instead, they’ve directed their support directly to candidates or to other groups. Donors consulted by TheIowaRepublican.com said it wasn’t necessarily the dominance of the Paul faction on the RPI that led them to close their wallets. Alleged mismanagement of the party’s financial resources has caused the most consternation.
In recent weeks, Spiker has traveled to county central committees to defend his tenure at RPI. He says that the party’s finances remain in good shape, especially compared to the Iowa Democratic Party. Drew Ivers, the Iowa GOP’s finance chairman, has made similar comments at county’s meetings and even shared the party’s balance sheet with a skeptical county activist.
Nonetheless, TheIowaRepublican.com has learned that nearly half of the party’s cash on hand—approximately $400,000—consists of a postage overpayment from the 2012 election cycle that the Republican National Committee and a direct mail vendor requested that RPI return. In addition, RPI benefited from leftover Victory-RNC funds of about $50,000 from the 2012 cycle. Although the effort wasn’t coordinated with the RNC, RPI benefited from the leftover funds. The full extent of RPI’s finances won’t be available until the committee files it’s monthly FEC report later this month.
As of the last state-level campaign finance report, filed in January, the state party listed $263,745.98 cash on hand in its state account. It listed $180,795.14 on hand in its federal account as of its latest FEC report, filed at the end of February.
Even more worrying to donors and Republican elected officials, though, is that Spiker’s administration decided last year to abandon the practice of previous RPI Chairman Matt Strawn of allocating federal and state funds to pay qualified party expenses. Federal election law allows state parties to use their state account to pay a large portion of party expenses such as salary, convention hosting and other overhead costs. Every well-run, state party uses this practice.
But Spiker’s administration used federal dollars to pay for convention expenses, RPI salaries and contributions to state-level candidates, among other expenditures, according to a source with knowledge of RPI’s transactions. The party failed to use allocation for several months in 2012 but finally reverted to the old practice recently after private criticism.
The Federal Election Commission sets an allocation ratio to determine the amount of federal funds—ranging from 15-36 percent—that the party can use for its qualified expenses. Although complex, using an allocation ratio can save the party hundreds of thousands of dollars because it can accept unlimited contributions to its state account while contributions to its federal account are limited.
The party’s 2012 year-end FEC report shows the party did not use allocation for any of their 2012 spending. Other state parties that have no contribution limits, such as Missouri and Virginia, use allocation formulas.
A party insider estimates that RPI is burning $20,000 to $30,000 a month. The committee clearly has a negative net operating income, meaning that it spends more money than it takes in. Spiker started at RPI last year with an $800,000 balance, which has dwindled to about $400,000.
Donors and GOP operatives are also critical of Spiker and RPI executive director Steve Bierfeldt for boasting about their fundraising prowess while ignoring past large donors to RPI, many of whom have stopped giving to the party as long as Spiker holds the reigns and declines to engage in outreach efforts to traditional GOP donors. The vast majority of RPI funds have come from RNC transfers, as well as transfers from statehouse campaigns directed for legislative campaign efforts.
RPI leadership has netted some contributions from the liberty movement—including $15,000 from Ron Paul, $5,000 from Rand Paul, about $100,000 from a Florida fundraiser attended by Paul supporters. But Spiker has declined to personally ask Ron Paul for a six-figure contribution from his $1.1 million presidential campaign account or to send out a “money bomb” email to his supporters asking for contributions to RPI.
“A.J. doesn’t have same cult following as Ron Paul,” said a source with knowledge of the party’s finances. “The self-described liberty movement just doesn’t treat people very well.”
Internal debate over closed session to discuss caucuses and RNC report
Multiple SCC members questioned why the committee needed to discuss caucus-related issues in a closed executive session. Another SCC member told TIR that it makes sense to discuss the party’s FEC audit in closed session but sharply criticized the party for seeking to avoid diverse input on the RNC’s Growth & Opportunity Project report, released last month, and discussion on the Iowa precinct caucuses.
“I imagine that they’re doing that to not have all opinions heard,” said one SCC member, who declined to speak on the record in favor of private discussions to change other committee members’ minds.
The party’s organization committee, which includes SCC members Steve Scheffler, Gopal Krishna, Bob Anderson and Chad Steenhoek, will meet before the party’s full meeting Saturday. The party is expected to debate the caucus to convention process in Iowa, including lessons learned from 2012, the future of the Ames Straw Poll and early planning for the 2014 caucuses, which will determine delegates to the 2014 state convention.
SCC member Jamie Johnson, who represents Republicans in the Fourth Congressional District, said he plans to oppose Spiker’s preference for a closed chat. Johnson, who stressed that he remains open to collaborative, cordial dialogue with anyone on the committee, said that it’s in RPI’s best interest to have a sunshine policy on issues of importance to all registered Republicans.
“Openness is a healthy thing for the Republican Party,” Johnson said. “What we need is an honest discussion on anything concerning the Iowa Caucuses or the Ames Straw Poll. To keep it under the cover of darkness is not healthy for anyone or any part; all that can lead to is accusations, whether founded or unfounded, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the present RPI leadership. Republicans want transparency in their leaders at the state level.”
“I don’t see any reason to enter executive session to discuss the RNC report or the caucus,” said SCC member Wes Enos, who represents the Third Congressional District. “The entire RNC report is an important and healthy discussion to have, in the open. I believe that having that discussion behind closed doors would be detrimental to the process and would only serve deepen the growing mistrust among party activists and county party leaders of the SCC and RPI leadership.”
Cody Hoefert, the chair of the Lyon County GOP and a newly-elected SCC member from the Fourth Congressional District, said it’s important that local activists can understand the proceedings of the SCC.
“I believe that we need to be as open and transparent as we can when discussing the future of our great party,” he said. “This will also ensure that our counties have the ability to hear and see the issues being discussed and where we stand.”
David Chung, an SCC member from the First Congressional District, agreed.
“Both the RNC and the Caucus Review Committee’s reports have been made public and widely discussed,” Chung said. “I think that the Republican rank and file in Iowa deserve to know what their party leaders think about these critical issues.”
Yet another SCC member said that the future of the caucuses are at stake if RPI leadership, a majority of whom are aligned with the liberty wing of the party, do not address concerns by other elements of the party that Spiker’s allies are stacking the deck for Sen. Paul in 2016 or working against Republican incumbents in 20014 who they deem insufficiently conservative.
Spiker has publicly criticized Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, for suggesting that the Ames Straw Poll needs reform. In 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., won the contest, while Ron Paul finished a close second. Spiker and other SCC members view the event, traditionally a blockbuster, state fair-style party fundraiser, as an important measure of grassroots organizing. Other officials have criticized the event as a vote-buying scheme that dissuades potentially good candidates from competing in the Iowa caucuses as straw poll voters aren’t necessarily representative of the 120,000-some voters who cast a caucus ballot last cycle.
Spiker and his allies are also expected to face criticism from fellow SCC members in discussing the caucus process, as Ron Paul supporters ferociously organized following the precinct caucuses to swarm a majority of delegate slots for the national convention in Tampa, Fla. Paul backers won those slots legitimately, but their scorched-earth tactics burned bridges with other Iowa Republicans.
“In our caucus process, people need to really follow through to being an attendee to a caucus to being a delegate of a county convention to going to the district and state conventions,” the SCC member said. “We know what can happen when that isn’t the case.”
Scheffler and RNC National Committeewoman Tamara Scott made similar comments at the Lyon County central committee meeting last month, noting that Paul finished a distant third to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the January precinct caucuses.
“The liberty movement gave us a jostle the last time around,” Scott said, criticizing the RNC vote for ten-Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, by the slate of Iowa GOP delegates at the RNC Convention in Tampa last year. “My concern is that they didn’t vote for the winner in Iowa. They didn’t respect the process. And the people of Iowa felt cheated.”
As the party meets tomorrow, members will certainly agree on more issues than they disagree. Nonetheless, thorny problems remain, and a trust deficit still festers.
Editor’s note: TIR made technical corrections and removed mention of a rumor regarding a potential sale of RPI headquarters after Spiker categorically denied it. Communication between this publication and RPI leadership has been rocky, but TIR should have reached out to Chairman Spiker directly before publishing the persistent rumor. We regret the error.
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