The Des Moines Register inexplicably endorsed Mitt Romney for president last week. This came as a shock to many liberals and progressives from my home state. My mom was a bit beside herself. A conservative friend waxed flummoxed about flying pigs. I don’t think it is terribly inexplicable however, and here’s why.
I approached the Des Moines Register in August to report on a new story. One of the news editors was very interested in my coverage and we went back and forth for a couple of weeks how the story may roll out. However, because I wasn’t able to get one angle of the story squared (as you will read later) and, because of the story publishing too close to the election, The Register backed off.
The most important part of this is what the editor said to me about “too close to the election”. The Register has long been accused of being a liberal daily. It has withstood the slings and arrows of accusatory Iowans grumbling about its progressive bent, it’s flowing seamlessly into the “lamestream”. The editor told me this and explained that publishing the story – the legitimate news story I had (have) – would appear too partisan. And, the fact the election was around the corner, well.
So, I decided to write a letter to the editor. I even had someone at the Register walk it into the Op-Ed page offices and advocate for the piece. Not a peep. Now, I was not expecting to see the thing published. It is the paper’s (and any paper’s) prerogative to publish what the like. But what that news editor told me continued to ring in my ears.
Here’s the Op-Ed:
Last year, the Iowa ACLU wrote a complaint against BobVander Plaats’ organization The Family Leader detailing the possible misuse of federal funds; a possible violation of what is called The Hatch Act. Shorthanded, the act bars organizations operating with federal dollars from politicking in various forms. The claim against The Family Leader alleges the violation occurred when they employed Mr. Matt Reisetter. This from the ACLU report.
“…Mr. Reisetter was then running the Northeast Iowa Marriage Alliance (NIMA) for the IFPC’s Marriage Matters Program funded through HHS’s Healthy Marriage initiative. In IFPC’s grant project abstract the IFPC…proposed to pay Reisetter for 1,140 hours of work at the rate of $22 an hour, or $25,080. As part of IFPC’s proposal, $19,100 of Reisetter’s salary would be paid by federal money…”
This is significant because the year he worked for The Family Leader (then the Iowa Family Policy Center – IFPC) Reisetter ran for, and lost the District 19 House race. Reisetter went on the following year, still in IFPC’s employ in a “leadership” role, to work on Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. This is a no-no in the world of using federal tax dollars. There is no way for IFPC to plead ignorance of this law. Chuck Hurley, the head of the IFPC signed a government document titled “assurances” before collecting the first government check. And anyway, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Reisetter is running again this year. This go ‘round, for Iowa Senate against Jeff Danielson in District 30 which encompasses part of Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Hudson and rural Blackhawk County.
In 2010 I wrote a story for the now defunct Iowa Independent detailing The Iowa Family Policy Center receipt of around $3 million in federal funding. Two years have passed, Vander Plaats joined Hurley’s group after bowing out of his third gubernatorial run to spearhead the successful campaign oust Iowa justices who supported marriage equality. Vander Plaats then made national news repeatedly during the caucuses. He was bestowed the title of political “kingmaker” in the state. Now The Family Leader is back for Justice Wiggins.
Anyone can file the ACLU claim. Anyone. But. whether or not anyone does is almost immaterial, it is that no one who I have spoken to about this claim feel they are able to take it on.
I have talked to newspapers, The Des Moines Register included, in-state non-profit organizations, citizens, lawyers, activists and even incumbent Iowa House and Senate members. All express outrage. All are shocked. But none feel they can do anything about it. Some insinuate The Family Leader’s real or perceived power as the roadblock, others worry it is too close to the election to talk about.
As a native Iowan who makes frequent trips back to visit my parents, chase my nephews around the farm and hang out with my niece and visit friends, I remain vested in what happens in my home-state. As a journalist, I am obliged to report what I can substantiate, what is news. And as a current New Yorker I can tell you the national eye swings to the Hawkeye state and not just once every four years. But you need only turn on your TV to know that firsthand.
People say Iowa is a bellwether for the rest of the country – I am one of those people. So when the largest, most politically active, organization built on almost $3 million in US taxpayer funding is reported to have violated the law, Iowa has a responsibility to do something about it.
The part of the story I couldn’t square was the need for the Register to have a willing party to file the complaint against The Family Leader. There were none – as you read above. It is a simple fax into the Office Of Special Counsel. I could do it, but no longer living in Iowa, I don’t feel it my place. But, this is definitely news with or without an official filing.
I believe the pervasive feeling at the Register was (is?) that it is seen as too liberal, therefore Romney gets the nod. Perhaps the Register has given in to the chorus of those on the right that believe reporting the news – or making a responsible endorsement – is just too close to ‘liberal’.