Ethics Board Not Removing Director From National Organizations of Marriage Investigation
The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted Wednesday not to remove its executive director from an investigation into whether the National Organization for Marriage violated state law by not disclosing campaign donors.
A complaint filed in June alleges NOM, a nonprofit political organization that opposes gay marriage, did not disclose donors or all of its contributions when it funded campaigns against Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2010 and 2012.
The complaint was filed by Fred Karger, a California gay rights activist who ran for the Republican Party presidential nomination in the 2012 election. The ethics board voted in August to investigate the complaint.
Karger’s complaint claims NOM spent $635,000 in 2010 and about $100,000 in 2012 to defeat Iowa justices who decided in 2009 that Iowa’s law prohibiting gay marriage was unconstitutional.
Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit, and David Baker were forced off the court after the November 2010 election when they received about 45 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed to stay. In 2012 David Wiggins, another justice that participated in the marriage law decision received 54 percent of the vote, enough to stay on the bench for another 8-year term.
NOM claims that that ethics board Executive Director Megan Tooker should be removed from involvement in the complaint because she was once a law clerk for Streit and NOM claims she made comments in August that were prejudicial and showed bias.
"We believe that there is a personal bias and animus toward NOM such that NOM believes it is impossible to believe that we’re going to get a fair hearing before this commission," said Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell, who spoke on behalf of NOM at a board’s meeting held by telephone.
Tooker said she is always very careful never to make prejudicial statements in meetings or to reporters. She said she has over the years dealt with complaints about candidates and political action groups from across the political spectrum and those that hold different positions from her own.
"I never take that into account nor should I. The staff never takes that into account, it’s irrelevant. The only thing we care about is whether or not groups, candidates, and PACS comply with Iowa laws," she said.
James Albert, the ethics board chairman and a Republican argued at times heatedly with Mitchell about the allegations.
At one point Mitchell challenged Albert asking him why he’s "cross examining me in this manner. It seems you have animus toward NOM or maybe it’s just me," she said.
Albert asked the group if it would provide emails, letters and other documents referring to the judicial retention votes. Mitchell said the group wanted a request in writing and would send the information Iowa law requires.
The board must decide whether NOM solicited and received donations for its campaign to defeat the Iowa justices and if so whether Iowa law requires the group to disclose donors.
Board Vice Chairman John Walsh, a Democrat from Dubuque, said he found NOM’s allegations against Tooker unfounded and frustrating because the group providing no evidence she did anything wrong.
"It’s all irrelevant because facts will determine this case," he said. "I don’t know why we’re having this extended argument about our counsel who in my opinion has done nothing wrong."
The board voted unanimously to allow Tooker to continue to participate in the investigation. She will gather facts and present them to the board for its determination of whether the NOM group violated Iowa law.