FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  November 10, 2011

Contact: Natalie Snyders, Environmental Justice Organizer 515.282.0484, Natalie @ iowacci.org

CCI Members to Rastetter: We’ll be back

On Thursday, the Iowa Ethics and Disclosure Board voted to scrap members’ August 16 conflict of interest ethics complaint against Rastetter

 

Des Moines, Iowa –  On Thursday, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted to put factory farm polluters before environmental protections and dismiss an ethics complaint filed by members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) against Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) member Brent Rastetter.

CCI members say Rastetter’s private role as the owner and president of the multi-million dollar factory farm construction company Quality Ag, Inc, creates a clear conflict of interest with his public duty as an EPC commissioner to stand up for clean air and water and crack down on factory farm polluters.

Iowa CCI members filed the ethics complaint after Rastetter’s June 21 vote to scrap a Clean Water Act rulemaking package that would have brought Iowa into compliance with federal law after nearly 40 years of noncompliance. The new rule, if passed, would have directly impacted Rastetter’s business.

An official copy of the complaint can be viewed here.

“Brent Rastetter’s service on the EPC is like the fox guarding the chicken coop, and doesn’t pass the common-sense test.” Said CCI member and family farmer Larry Ginter from Rhodes, IA, “The Campaign and Ethics Disclosure Board just gave good government a black eye.”

Iowa Code 68B.2A, “Prohibited outside employment and activities — conflicts of interest” states:

Any person who serves or is employed by the state or a political subdivision of the state shall not engage in…outside employment or an activity that is subject to the official control, inspection, review , audit, or enforcement authority of the person, during the performance of the person’s duties of office or employment.

“It is the mission of the EPC and DNR to protect our environment, and we will continue to push EPC commissioners and DNR staff to stand up for clean air and water, and to crack down on factory farm polluters” Said Barb Kalbach, a nurse & 4th generation family farmer from Dexter. “And whether it is rulemaking or cracking down on factory farm polluters, we will be there to make sure that DNR & EPC are taking a tough stand. If they don’t, we will continue to pursue every option available to stand up for the environment and everyday Iowans.”

There have been more than 750 manure spills since 1995, including more than two dozen since Governor Terry Branstad was elected to office last November. Iowa has more than 572 polluted waterways.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a group of everyday people who talk, act and get things done on issues that matter most. With thousands of members from all walks of life — urban and rural, black and white, immigrants and lifelong Iowans — CCI has been tackling tough issues and getting things done for more than 35 years.

For more information about Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, visit www.iowacci.org

 

In early November, CCI members took part in a national call-in day of action to stop the big banks from financing one of the greatest wealth-stripping schemes of our time: payday lending.

CCI member, and fourth-generation family farmer and nurse from rural Iowa, Barb Kalbach shared how her call went:

Last week I called the offices of Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan to tell him to stop financing payday lenders.

I talked to a young man in Moynihan’s office and told him that I thought payday lending was an outrageous, predatory practice, and if Bank of America was serious about investing in communities they would get out of the business completely.

I told him that I live near Creston, IA, a small town of about 5,000 people that has a community college, a large nursing home, and three payday lenders.

Now, why in the world would a town of just 5,000 people need three payday lenders?  In this case, I believe it is because they are targeting the students and aging population of Creston.  They are preying on people who might fall into a desperate situation and making people poor.  Every year in Iowa nearly $40 million leaves our cash-strapped state in fees to out of state payday lending corporations.

I told that young man in Moynihan’s office that there’s no other way to describe what these payday lenders are doing except to call it disgusting.  I told him that as long as Bank of America continued to finance payday lenders, I wasn’t going to be doing any business with Bank of America.

To be a huge bank, to take from the poor in such a shady way, is just so unethical.  I told them they should be doing something positive – take that money and invest in communities.  Bring that money back to places like Creston, a community that could really use some fresh development.

If you feel the same way as Barb or have your own story to share, make your call today.

A Fair Day’s Pay: The Movement to End Wage Theft

 

Iowa CCI’s wage theft organizing campaign gets a brief mention on page 20 of the Discount Foundation’s new report.

To date Iowa CCI’s organizing to stop wage theft has helped members reclaim $122,000 in stolen wages for 48 workers in central Iowa.

View the report here: http://www.discountfoundation.org/sites/all/files/Wage_Theft_Report_2011_Oct.pdf

From the Discount Foundation’s website:

Over the last decade, grassroots opposition to Wage Theft has grown dramatically across the country. Wage theft, the illegal underpayment of wages primarily affects the working poor. It is widespread and occurs in various forms and industries. It is estimated that millions of low wage workers annually are not paid at legally required overtime rates, at minimum wages or for total hours worked. In response workers’ rights organizations have engaged in increasingly sophisticated and successful campaigns to strengthen enforcement and make sure that monies due employees are repaid.

 

In a new report: “A Fair Day’s Pay: The Movement to End Wage Theft”, Nik Theodore, an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, examines over a dozen examples of organizations utilizing innovative tactics to combat this illegal practice. Commissioned by the Discount Foundation, the report reviews a variety of local, state and federal strategies driven by grantee organizations to address violations of employment laws.

 

Within the next couple of weeks, CCI members are expecting Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to announce a settlement with the nation’s largest mortgage servicers regarding fraudulent foreclosures and bad mortgage servicing. CCI members have been watching this investigation very closely since meeting with AG Miller last year where, in a room full of distressed homeowners from across the country, he promised to get tough and crack down on big banks.

After that meeting though, Miller went silent. Since our meeting last December (2010), rumors and leaks from his investigation have suggested that he was caving to big bank pressure. We learned of several questionable contributions from big bank lawyers, and we called Miller out. We heard he was having talks with the big banks in Washington and Chicago, and CCI members traveled to demand he stand up for struggling Iowans back home.

CCI and a lot of our allies have been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on Miller, the other AGs, and raising expectations time and again. Our message resonated with the Attorneys General in New York, Delaware, California, Minnesota, and Kentucky who all either quit the settlement out of disgust or expressed extreme dissatisfaction with Miller’s handling of the big banks.

But, as we’ve said all along, the proof is going to be in the pudding. We still expect a strong settlement from Miller – one that includes across-the-board, meaningful, sustainable principal reduction that is going to start stabilizing the housing market, restitution for homeowners, and keeps the door open for criminal prosecution.

We’ll keep you posted on updates as we get them, so watch this space!

 

Iowa Campaign Ethics & Disclosure Board to meet on our conflict of interest complaint

 

Brent Rastetter is the owner CEO of Quality Ag, Inc- a factory farm construction firm that rakes in $5-10 million a year in profits building factory farms around the state.

Rastetter is also Governor Terry Branstad’s newest appointee to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) – the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) citizen oversight board.

EPC commissioners have a duty to stand up for clean air and water and crack down on factory farm polluters. Having Rastetter sit on the EPC diminishes public trust in the EPC and DNR and creates the appearance of unethical conduct.

That’s why in August, CCI members filed an ethics complaint with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board against commissioner Rastetter. As citizens, we shouldn’t have to wonder if he’s protecting our environment or his own bottom line.

Tomorrow (November 10, 2011), the Iowa Ethics Board will make a decision on our complaint and whether to move forward with an investigation on Rastetter.

Take Action today!

Join us for the meeting Thursday – meet us at 10:30 am at the CCI office (2001 Forest Ave, Des Moines) and we will head down to the meeting at Noon (Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board office, 510 East 12th, Suite 1A, Des Moines) They will have time for public comments at the meeting.

Make a comment to Ethics Board director Megan Tooker-she will make a recommendation to the board about our complaint. Click here to send her a message.

Thanks for all that you do. We’ll keep you updated as this moves forward.

 

A packed crowd of over 115 CCI members and others met with Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy and Des Moines Police Captain Todd Dykstra and Lt. Joe Gonzalez Nov. 2 to voice concerns about fair treatment and to ask Sheriff McCarthy to end participation in a federal program inaptly named “Secure Communities”.

Dozens shared their stories and the Sheriff and Police Departments felt our unity and heard our message loud and clear. In the meeting McCarthy stated that the county will not fingerprint for misdemeanors – a move that will reduce the number of unnecessary deportations – saying, “We believe our job is to investigate and solve crimes and we cannot do that if you are afraid to talk to us.”

“It’s good to know the law enforcement wants to hear from the Latino community. Everyone deserves to feel safe. It’s better for all the whole community,” said member Natalie Espinoza (photo) from Des Moines, who shared her story.

We got several commitments and clarifications from local law enforcement. Most notably:

  • Sheriff McCarthy announced that the Polk County Jail will not fingerprint those brought in for misdemeanors. This is a big win and a bold move that will reduce the number of unnecessary deportations under “Secure Communities”. If undocumented immigrants are not fingerprinted then their information is not sent to ICE. His announcement comes after months of CCI and like-minded groups working to denounce “Secure Communities” in the media, at the city  meetings, and to Sheriff McCarthy directly.
  • Police officers may not ask for anything more than a license, car registration, and proof of insurance. Meaning, they cannot ask about immigration status. Police Lt. Joe Gonzalez passed out official complaint forms so people can come forward and make a complaint if they feel they have been racial profiling or are bullied about immigration status.
  • Sheriff meetingSheriff McCarthy (photo) committed to send an officer to the Iowa CCI office if anyone wants to make a complaint about treatment at the Polk County Jail. And, Chief Sheriff Deputy Victor Munoz reaffirmed that you do not need to be documented to visit family in the jail, all they need to bring is some form of ID.
  • Des Moines Police told the audience that everyone has the right to an interpreter so they know why they were stopped and/or what they are being charged with. An officer cannot deny access to an interpreter and officers should be carrying cell phones with a translation service with them at all times.

We will be following up with the Sheriff on the specifics of his new fingerprinting policy. And, as always, we will be holding both departments accountable to their own rules. When they will not call an interpreter or if they ask about someone’s immigration status, CCI members will be there to make the complaints and hold them accountable.

Thanks for a great meeting! If you attended, we would love to hear your thoughts.