State Auditor Rob Sand, who is eyeing a run for governor next year, says Gov. Kim Reynolds violated Iowa law by using federal funds to pay for a public service announcement to raise public awareness about COVID-19.
Sand said Reynolds violated a state law prohibiting the use of public money for self-promotion using the likeness, voice or name of the governor.
According to his Thursday report, about $500,000 in federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds were used on the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” public awareness campaign. Another $17,000 spent producing the videos may have violated the law, the first-term Democratic auditor said.
Reynolds appears in the one-minute video for about 10 seconds, according to Sand and his staff.
Reynolds, a Republican, said she is proud of the public awareness campaign and said Sand is misreading the state law.
His accusation ignores the opening clause of the law that refers to an exception in the law that applies to the power and authority of the governor during a public health disaster emergency.
“That is a significant error,” according to Reynolds’ staff. “Any competent reading of the plain language of state code would have acknowledged the role of the governor in promoting an emergency order.”
If Sand had asked to meet with the governor or her staff, “we would have pointed him to this essential part of the law that he clearly missed,” Reynolds’ Chief of Staff Sara Gogol said.
Her office or the office of the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board “could have directed the auditor to the plain language of Iowa’s image-and-likeness statute and pointed out that, during a disaster emergency, the governor may address Iowans in a public service announcement.”
Sand’s office said the material was shared with the governor Wednesday, the day before he made his report public, which is standard operating procedure for his office.
The governor could have suspended that provision of the law in her disaster proclamations, but she did not, Sand said.
“Therefore, the law prohibiting statewide elected officials from self-promotion through the use of public moneys applies,” he said.
He also criticized Reynolds’ reference to the law as the “name and likeness statute.” He prefers to call that section of the Iowa Code “self-promotion with taxpayer funds prohibited.”
“Calling it a ‘name and likeness statute,’” Sand said, “tries to distract from what the governor did: Promote herself with taxpayer funds.”
In his report, Sand recommended the law be followed by all statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature.
He also recommended the Legislature consider expanding the Iowa Code restriction to include elected officials of all governmental subdivisions, such as cities, counties, and school districts.
The 2018 law Sand cited was approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature to force statewide elected officials and legislators to spend campaign funds, not taxpayer dollars, for “self-promotion.”
In addition to preventing Reynolds from appearing in public service announcements promoting her Future Ready Iowa program, the law would restrict elected officials from using state funds to pay for booths at the Iowa State Fair, explained Marion Republican Ashley Hinson, now a U.S. congresswoman, who offered the prohibition.
Other impacts of the law could include GOP Secretary of State Paul Pate’s use of his name or photo in voter registration information and removing Republican Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig’s name from official notices on gas pumps.
Democratic Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald would not be able to appear in ads promoting the state’s college savings program, legislators said, adding that all of those activities could be seen as part of the officeholders’ official duties.
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