Update #2 (5/12): Fallon paid himself a salary in the months following his gubernatorial campaign for campaign clean-up work using unexpected leftover funds, and he doesn’t expect to do the same after his congressional bid, Campaign Manager Lynn Heuss has told me via e-mail.
Update (5/12): Previously, I wrote that I’M for Iowa was “arguably in violation of campaign law” for promoting Fallon’s congressional campaign through e-mails. In actuality, this does not appear to violate any law, and the controversy concerns questions of ethics, not legality, from Boswell’s camp.
First, a quick note: I’ve been blogging a lot lately on the Boswell-Fallon 3rd district primary contest, but I’ll return to covering the 4th district Democratic primary soon with a feature article in the new Progressive to be released this week.
But that said, a lot continues to happen in the 3rd district primary in Ed Fallon’s bid to oust Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell. So, playing catch-up…
Boswell says no to primary debate. A number of organizations, including KCCI News Channel 8 and The Des Moines Register, have invited Boswell and Fallon to participate in televised debates. Not surprisingly, Boswell has turned them all down while Fallon has accepted them all.
This isn’t anything atypical when an advantaged incumbent faces a primary challenge. Boswell has a huge cash advantage, primarily from PAC money, and to debate the cash-strapped Fallon would not only give the challenger free TV time to boost his poll numbers but would also legitimize him, something Boswell has spent the entire campaign trying to avoid.
Boswell’s initial excuse for ducking the debates was that he was too busy in Washington as part of the House agriculture committee working on the farm bill. Boswell campaign spokesman Mark Daley told KCCI that “I think it’s pretty important to Iowa that we have one of the agricultural leaders in Congress in there fighting for them on the farm bill.”
Of course, it isn’t true that Boswell’s too busy in Congress; he’s been spotted at a variety of fundraisers and other public events in the 3rd district this past month, and Congress likely won’t even be in session when the joint KCCI/Register debate would occur.
One of those events was the William Penn University commencement ceremony, where the Boz told graduates, “Remember for over 130 years, the students, alumni of William Penn have worked to make the world a better place by striving for social justice, equality, and a greater understanding of the many different peoples of the world. Remember this as you create your own future.” And, added the article, “even today, Boswell said, steps toward a fair and just society have yet to be achieved.”
Then, according to a May 2 article from The Register, “a Boswell spokesman said the campaign did not feel there would be adequate time before the June 3 primary to respond to any misinformation that might arise during the debate.”
That statement, along with Daley’s claim on KCCI that “Ed Fallon has had a lot of problems during this campaign trying to figure out what is fact and what is not,” is a good indication that Boswell has little interest in defending his votes for the war, Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, Bush energy policy, and a grab bag of other pieces of regressive legislation, let alone explaining the irony in how this has all been his personal contribution to the lack of his “fair and just society”.
More endorsements have come in for both candidates. Boswell picked up another prominent supporter in retired Army General Wesley Clark, as well as a nod from the United Steelworkers Iowa District 11. Fallon picked up a much less significant endorsement from the Progressive Coalition of Central Iowa, whose member organization STAR*PAC had already endorsed the candidate.
The “Fallon loophole” bill has died in committee in the Iowa House. The bill was originally introduced in the state Senate in response to ethical concerns over Fallon’s paying himself a salary of $13,750 with unused gubernatorial campaign funds from June to November 2006, after the June 6 primary election. On April 21 this year, the Senate voted 47-2 to pass the bill before sending it along to the House.
An archived Register article had the following to say:
Current law lets candidates or officeholders pay themselves any amount as long as it’s campaign -related and not for “the personal expenses or personal benefit” of the candidate, said Charlie Smithson of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
“Another problem is trying to determine when someone is truly ‘on the clock for campaigning’ and not using funds for their ‘personal benefit’ or for some other purpose prohibited under the campaign laws,” Smithson said in an e-mail to senators. Senate File 2414 would remove that confusion, he said.
Fallon, for his part, denounced the bill as status quo politics intended to make it harder for candidates with less money to run for office. In the grand scheme of things, $13,750 is not much for a campaign, and Fallon is certainly right in saying that candidates of his ilk are unfairly disadvantaged. Also, the bill is clearly a political ploy intended to get Fallon back for challenging Boswell. A lot of Democrats in the Statehouse haven’t taken too kindly to Fallon’s ideological purity over the years.
On the other hand, while Fallon also said that more money came into his gubernatorial campaign than expected toward the end, the people who donated the money intended the money to fund Fallon’s bid to win the Democratic primary, not pay his salary after his loss. So I do think the bill has some merit, or would had it not been introduced at such a politically convenient time.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal — the same guy who once told publicly funded elections advocates “You can kiss my ass” and “Fuck you” — sponsored the legislation and said in the Register article, “We’re not trying to stomp on Ed Fallon. We’re trying to ensure Iowans that campaign funds will be used for campaign purposes – not to pad the lavish living of certain individuals.”
Fallon has also taken a good deal of slack for his I’M for Iowa business, which twice promoted his congressional campaign in e-mails, arguably in violation of campaign ethics. Instead of running the business, which is a consulting firm of sorts to promote progressive politics in Iowa, as a non-profit, it’s a for-profit enterprise that serves as Fallon’s current source of income. He asked supporters of his gubernatorial bid to donate to the business without telling them about his salary, and Boswell and his supporters have subsequently demanded that Fallon disclose his donor list. But those donations never funded his congressional campaign, and Fallon has argued that he has no obligation to reveal the names.
Fallon’s been called a professional politician by more than a few critics for things like this, but in truth he’s a political activist and has been for decades. To say that isn’t a worthy cause, or that he’s running an illegitimate business operation, is absurd. I think Fallon may well have muddled things up a bit, but considering his campaign had $19,733 cash on hand as of March 31 from a total of $171,618 all from individual donors, this really isn’t the big controversy some have made it out to be, especially considering Boswell’s pocketed more than 600 grand from PACs.
One last tidbit on the race: Fallon liveblogged at Firedoglake Saturday, where he wrote that “informal polling, based on our extensive door-to-door and phone outreach shows me up 60% to 40%.” An April 24 KCCI poll showed Boswell ahead 52 percent to 28 percent with 20 percent undecided.