Harkin Scandal

January 9th, 2013

Tom Harkin: ‘Born this way’

DES MOINES—Need more evidence that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is preparing to run for a sixth term? The Cumming resident’s campaign committee, Citizens for Harkin, will hold its second Lady Gaga-related fundraiser next month.

Harkin plans to groove to Gaga’s music with lobbyists, Democratic donors and others who can afford at least $1,500 for a VIP ticket to Harkin’s suite at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

The concert fundraiser, scheduled for Feb. 25, at 7 p.m., was reported by politicalpartytime.org, a project of the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks fundraising events by politicians. Two tickets and a VIP reception costs $3,500 for a Political Action Committee donor or $3,000 for an individual. One ticket will set a PAC back $2,000 or an individual $1,500. In 2011, Harkin charged $500 less per ticket. Inflation plagues even lobbyists.

Harkin fundraiser Jeremy Gold, who also fundraises for Harkin protege Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and other Democrats, is listed as the contact on both fundraising invitations. Interested attendees planning to be in Washington, D.C. can RSVP via (202) 546-9292 or emailing [email protected].

Harkin’s 2011 event made national news, as TIME Magazine’s headline read, “Tom Harkin and Lady Gaga, Together at Last.” As POLITICO noted, “[a] ticket to see the pop star perform costs $52 on the low end, but if you buy your seats through Harkin, they will put you back $1,000 a pop.”

“What is it that attracts Senate Democrats to the pop star Lady Gaga? One answer could be: campaign cash,” a USA Today reporter wrote in Jan. 2011. “We wonder if any of Harkin’s supporters in Iowa’s beef industry will attend the concert? After all, Lady Gaga once drew headlines by wearing a dress made of raw meat at the MTV Video Music Awards show last year.”

As liberal blogger desmoinesdem noted late last month on her blog Bleeding Heartland, Gold, the finance director for Citizens for Harkin, sent out an email Dec. 27 claiming that “‘special interests’ would love to send [Harkin] ‘into early retirement.’” Gold sent out another email Dec. 29 noting that the campaign doesn’t “‘know for sure who will challenge Tom’ and ‘Republicans are already lining up to challenge Tom.’”

An early November poll by Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling found that Harkin leads a generic Republican 48-40 in a 2014 match-up. Harkin, though, only has a 41 percent (+1) approval rating. In contrast Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) had a 48 percent approval rating (+12) in the same poll, which was conducted Nov. 3-4. Harkin defeated GOP lightweight Chris Reed in 2008 by 25 points.

Harkin and his wife Ruth have stirred controversy by raising six-figure sums from labor unions, corporations, foreign nationals and wealthy Democrats for the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State University.

Donors are only allowed to donated $5,000 per two-year campaign cycle ($2,500 for the primary and $2,500 for the general election), but some donors have found a way around those restrictions by donating unlimited sums to Harkin’s namesake think tank.

For example, in June 2012, Democratic mega-donor Bernard Schwartz pledged $100,000 to the Harkin Institute of Public Policy. He has transferred $20,000 so far. The 86-year-old billionaire is the chairman and CEO of BLS Investments.

In the last two years, Schwartz has also donated $375,000 to Majority PAC, a so-called super PAC focused on electing Democrats to the U.S. Senate and $61,600 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrat’s official Senate campaign arm, according to an analysis of FEC records by the Center for Responsive Politics. Schwartz also donated $1,000 last year to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Obama.

Schwartz donated $2,500—the maximum allowed for a primary cycle—to Sen. Harkin’s 2014 campaign committee, Citizens for Harkin, on March 31, 2011, according to Federal Election Commission records analyzed by TheIowaRepublican.com. The same day he also donated $63.79 to Harkin’s general election campaign.

A longtime Democratic donor, Schwartz was the largest single donor to the Democratic Party from 1992 to 1996. As The Washington Post noted in 1998, he has used his influence to win favors from Democratic politicians for his financial interests:

In June 1994, Bernard L. Schwartz, the chairman of Loral Corp., wrote his first six-figure check to the Democratic Party, donating $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

Around the same time, Schwartz asked to be included on a trade mission being organized by then-Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown to China, where his company hoped to win a piece of the growing telecommunications market. On the trip, Brown arranged a meeting for Schwartz and a rival industry executive with the Chinese communications minister – a session that, as Schwartz recalled it yesterday, “helped open doors that were not open before.”

The Clinton administration has been good to Bernard Schwartz, and he to it. Schwartz, a lifelong Democrat and longtime political donor, dramatically ratcheted up his giving after President Clinton took office, contributing a total of more than $1 million to Democratic party committees since then.

And as it has adopted policies favorable to U.S. companies seeking and doing business in China, the administration has taken steps favorable to Loral.

Sen. Harkin has consistently refused to answer reporters’ questions about donor influence at the Harkin Institute.

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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