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Iowa chartered accountant questions governor’s spending on COVID-19 ads

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – The Democratic accountant of Iowa accused the state’s Republican governor Thursday of violating a 2018 state law prohibiting state-elected officials from using public funds for self-promotion, and argued that she broke the law by running ads promoting public safety measures for coronavirus.

Auditor Rob Sand said an advertising campaign launched by Governor Kim Reynolds in November that aimed to slow the spread of the coronavirus was breaking the law as Reynolds was in the process of buying more than $ 500,000 of federal coronavirus aid for had used the ads.

Sand said his office was conducting an investigation into the advertising campaign, which was funded with funds to pay for expanded testing capacity for COVID-19 and improved collection and reporting of data on the pandemic.

Sand said Reynolds’ office did not seek federal approval to spend the money on an advertising campaign until after the announcement and five weeks after his office requested bills for the expenses.

He said emails showed the state received approval to use the funds in February.

Reynolds in a statement denied that she had broken the law, saying that it was clearly an exception in the event that a governor declares a disaster emergency. Such a proclamation applied to the pandemic at the time.

“Promoting the requirements and recommendations of a disaster proclamation in a public awareness campaign is a clear example of the public emergency exemption in Iowa’s Image and Likeness Statute,” she said.

In the statement, Reynolds Chief of Staff Sara Craig said: “Any proficient reading of the plain language of the State Code would have recognized the governor’s role in promoting an emergency ordinance.”

Sand responded by saying Reynolds could have suspended the law in their disaster proclamations, but did not. “Nothing in this statement is to be construed as an exception to any other part of the Iowa Code,” said their proclamations.

“As a result, the law bans state-elected officials from promoting themselves through the use of public funds,” said Sand, an attorney and former assistant attorney general for Iowa.

It’s not the first time Reynolds has been challenged for her use of federal COVID-19 aid funds.

In October, Sand accused Reynolds of inappropriately using $ 21 million in federal virus supplies on an accounting software system. Federal officials agreed, and Reynolds later returned the money. The legislature financed the system from state taxpayers’ money.

Sand concluded that approximately $ 152,000 of the $ 511,789 spent on the ad campaign was used to buy time and placement of the video with Reynolds on websites and radio and television stations across the country, which may be against the 2018 law.

The law was passed to stop the use of taxpayer dollars for self-promotion by politicians like the governor and other state officials who compete in the stands at the Iowa State Fair. Additionally, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat, has appeared in advertisements promoting the College Savings Iowa program. During the legislative debates, Democrats argued that Secretary of State Paul Pate could no longer hand out voter registration leaflets with his name and photo on it.

The move was driven by Ashley Hinson, who was then a Republican representative and is now a Congresswoman. She argued in the Chamber: “This applies to everyone, regardless of the party.”

The law states that anyone who intentionally violates it must pay out of their campaign money an amount equal to the amount that was used to fund communications. A serious offense can also be prosecuted against an offender.

Sand said Reynolds realized her legal duty to avoid self-promotion in the ads because she signed the law.

He added: “The violation appears to be voluntary and deliberate as the governor herself publicly announced and described the advertising campaign, sat down to film her portions of it, and chose to read several lines so that three times during the video spots all three “identifying features that the law forbids (name, image and voice) were present.”

Sand’s report said the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board should look into the issue.

Sand, who is serving his first term as a state examiner, is often cited as a potential challenger to Reynolds when she re-runs. He has not said whether he will be re-elected or run for another office in November 2022.

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