Concession days before ethics hearing is just one more example in a long string of incidents of Rastetter only doing the right thing after he gets caught

Iowa Regent Bruce Rastetter amended a financial disclosure form with the state of Iowa yesterday (Aug. 20) in an attempt to deflect part of an ethics complaint we filed and that will come before the Iowa Ethics board this Thursday.

A key part of our ethics complaint against Bruce Rastetter is a potentially fraudulent and falsified financial disclosure form filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on April 24, 2012 that lists Rastetter as a “farmer, self-employed” rather than cataloguing his extensive and lucrative investments. The amended form filed August 20 provides some additional details.

“Rastetter is trying to cover his tracks but in reality this is a shocking admission of guilt,” said Ross Grooters, a train engineer and CCI member from Pleasant Hill. “He knows he broke the law, and he’s trying to avoid accountability just days before his ethics hearing.”

This is just the latest example in a long pattern of Rastetter making concessions at the last minute in an attempt to hide his mistakes and play damage control,” Grooters continued. “Is this the kind of person with a proven track record of bad judgments and poor decision making we want serving the public as a regent? Do we want a public servant in office who only does the right thing after he’s confronted with public pressure?

Previous examples of Rastetter’s pattern of making concessions at the last minute in an attempt to hide his mistakes and play damage control:

  • Rastetter disclosed his conflict of interest to the Iowa Board of Regents on June 17, 2011 three days after a front page Des Moines Register story outed his role in the land grab in Tanzania.
  • He recused himself completely from negotiating with Iowa State University on September 13, 2011, after he found out that a Dan Rathers Report expose on the land grab was in the works.

Emails during that time show that Rastetter was personally involved in day-to-day negotiations with ISU dean David Acker throughout May, June, and July 2011, months after his term on the Board of Regents began.

In a letter dated August 20, 2012 written to the state’s ethics board by Paula Dierenfeld, Rastetter’s attorney, Rastetter says his original financial disclosure form was based on “statements filed by other public officials” and argues that Iowa disclosure law “is not clear.”

But the financial disclosure form clearly states that all investment income “more than $1000” must be reported, something Rastetter objectively failed to do the first time.

“The ethics board’s alleged failure to enforce the law with other political appointees does not let Rastetter off the hook,” Grooters said. “It only proves that the ethics board needs to start doing their job, beginning with a full investigation into Rastetter’s long pattern of unethical behavior.”

Iowa CCI executive director Hugh Espey wrote in an August 1 “Iowa View” op-ed in the Des Moines Register that Rastetter’s concession on his financial disclosure form “will not change the fact that he was duty-bound to get it right the first time.”

Iowa CCI members will make their case to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board during an ethics hearing Thursday at noon.

 

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All summer long, CCI members across the state have been confronting Governor Branstad about Regent Bruce Rastetter’s misconduct. Two weeks ago, it was Garry Klicker from Bloomfield. Last week, it was Patti Edwardson from Jefferson and another member in Rockwell City. Yesterday it was Evan Burger, a CCI member from Huxley.

Evan ran into Branstad at the Iowa State Fair and took the opportunity to ask him some tough questions about Rastetter. When Evan asked what the governor thought about the scandal surrounding Rastetter’s ethics violations, Branstad asked, “What scandal? There’s no scandal.” Evan then asked whether Branstad had looked at the emails obtained by CCI which prove that Rastetter abused his position as a regent.

Branstad said he had not, but that the Ethics Board is responsible for looking into that evidence and making a decision. Evan continued to press Branstad, asking, “So if the board finds Rastetter guilty of an ethics violation, you will ask him to give up his position as a regent?” Branstad avoided the question by claiming that the governor does not have the power to fire a regent.

Evan pointed out that Branstad was able to force David Miles and Jack Evans out of their positions as President and President Pro Tem of the Board of Regents to make room for Branstad appointees Rastetter and Craig Lang. Branstad responded that “he simply let it be known that he would like them to step down,” and they decided to comply. Evan then asked the obvious question: “If Rastetter is found guilty, will you let it be known that you would like him to step down?” Before Branstad could answer, his handlers hurried him away from Evan.

The Iowa State Fair is an excellent opportunity to challenge our elected officials on important issues like the Rastetter scandal – keep your eyes open and you never know who you’ll see out shaking hands! And if you do get the chance to ask Branstad or anyone else about Rastetter, give the CCI office a call at 515-282-0484 or email us at iowacci@iowacci.org and let us know!

 

Ask Branstad to “simply let it be known” that Rastetter needs to go!

Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter —  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest.

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Des Moines, Iowa —

During a townhall meeting in Rockwell City yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad told an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) member from Webster County that an ethics complaint filed against Iowa Regent Bruce Rastetter by Iowa CCI members would be dismissed by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on August 23.

“There is supposed to be a firewall between the governor’s office and the ethics board,” said Hugh Espey, Iowa CCI’s executive director.  “If that firewall has been breached, it could be an even bigger scandal than Rastetter pushing ISU to support a corporate land-grab in Tanzania.”

Members of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board are appointed by the governor to six year terms, but the board itself is supposed to be independent and free from any influence from the governor’s office.  Iowa CCI member say they believe it is against Iowa law for the governor’s office to have any communication with the ethics board about pending complaints.

On Wednesday, an Iowa CCI member from Webster County attended a townhall meeting in Rockwell City and publicly asked Branstad if he would fire Rastetter.  Branstad told the gathered crowd that he supported Rastetter but would wait for an August 23 decision by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board before considering the matter.

However, the Webster County man – who has ties to Iowa State University and wishes not to be identified for fear of reprisals – says he approached Branstad privately after the townhall had concluded to press Branstad further and that the governor told him the complaint would be dismissed.

“Branstad did say it was his understanding that this was all going to be dismissed anyway,” the Webster County man told Iowa CCI staff who transcribed the conversations.  “He didn’t say where he heard that.  But he offered that himself.  It wasn’t about me probing him or anything he just offered it himself.  So a bell went off in my head that they were going to just sweep this thing under the rug.”

Governor Branstad has been hounded by questions regarding Rastetter’s ethical conduct during townhall tours of Iowa the last two weeks, including in Bloomfield in SE Iowa on August 1, in Coon Rapids in Western Iowa on August 6, and in Rockwell City on August 8.

Iowa CCI members called Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board executive director Megan Tooker Thursday morning and left a message on her voicemail asking for comment.  Iowa CCI members also sent her a letter Thursday morning demanding answers.

 

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Dozens of CCI members converged on the Board of Regents meeting in Cedar Falls on Friday, August 3 to demand the resignation or firing of Regent Bruce Rastetter.

A long time hog and ethanol baron in Iowa, Rastetter is currently pursuing a large land grab in Tanzania through his international energy company, Agrisol Energy. CCI believes Rastetter, who worked closely on the project with staff from Iowa State University before and during his time as Regent, committed an ethics violation by failing to timely disclose his conflict of interest and even used that conflict to advance his interests in Agrisol.

Rastetter and Agrisol stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars off the land in Tanzania that they are seeking to lease at $0.25/acre for 99 years. Much of this land is currently home to over 160,000 Burundian refugees.

The Board of Regents had twice rejected CCI’s requests to speak to the board in a public forum before appearing at the meeting in Cedar Falls.

Here’s a full roundup of the press from the August 3 action in Cedar Falls:

 

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Bloomfield, Iowa —

Independent family farmer and small business owner Garry Klicker of Bloomfield told Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds to fire Iowa Regent Bruce Rastetter for ethics violations during a townhall meeting in Davis County in Southeast Iowa Wednesday afternoon.

“Rastetter did a real number on Davis county back when he was building factory farms down here with Heartland Pork, and now he’s trying to do the same thing in Tanzania,” Klicker said during a Q&A period.  “What he did was a conflict of interest.  Mr. Governor, I think you should ask Rastetter to step down from the Board of Regents.”

Branstad briefly defended Rastetter and said he would wait for an Aug 23 ruling by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board before considering the matter further.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members will attend an Iowa Board of Regents meeting in Cedar Falls on Friday and demand the regents enforce their ethics policy.

 

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The following op-ed by Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu appeared in the August 1, 2012 edition of the Des Moines Register. You can access the original version online here.

Bruce Rastetter and his AgriSol Energy colleagues came to the newspaper recently to rebut criticisms that the corporation, of which he is 30 percent shareholder and managing director, is making a land grab in Tanzania. In spite of their PowerPoint presentation and talking points, the company has more to do to prove its intentions are honorable.

It was reported that AgriSol officials stood to make $300 million from a deal that would have given it 99-year rights to cultivate land for as little as 25 cents an acre, while forcing the evacuation of refugees living there. AgriSol denies the profit amount, but acknowledges the cheap rent and says it wasn’t responsible for the evictions. It claims to have pulled out of that project. Yet the company’s website still talks about “discussions with the local and national government officials about developing farms at Katumba and Mishamo in the future.”

For now, the officials say, they are developing a model commercial farm in Kigoma in western Tanzania. They concede 25 cents an acre rent is low, but say the figure is set by statute, since all land is government owned.

For context, I contacted Mwangi Kimenyi, director of the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative. “Just because the government says the price is 25 cents — to me, that is totally ridiculous,” Kimenyi said. He said the government may be the custodian of that land, but Tanzanian people are considered its rightful owners, and it’s not for government to give it away. “Some people will benefit, but the common people will not benefit,” he said.

AgriSol has paid Tanzanian government officials, including one who was in charge of the refugee camps, to be advisers on the project. Rastetter claims others there don’t have the know-how. Kimenyi, however, says such payments can amount to outright corruption. He said “a few individuals in government who are not transparent” then negotiate terms that undermine people’s rights.

Rastetter further claims the company plans to invest $100 million over 10 years in infrastructure improvements in Tanzania, including water, power and storage. “That land was worthless without power, electricity, roads,” said Henry Akona, AgriSol Tanzania’s spokesman. “They need a company like AgriSol to come in and build that.”

But if the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank that has had researchers in Tanzania investigate the previous AgriSol deal, is correct, AgriSol also demanded the Tanzanian government give it “strategic investor status,” which would grant it tax exemptions and a waiver of duties. And they asked the government to commit to constructing a rail link.

As to the promise of creating water supplies, Kimenyi said he has visited some large investor-owned farms in Africa, such as Del Monte’s in Kenya, where water is diverted for the company’s use. “They’re not interested in what happens downstream,” he said.

Rastetter boasts AgriSol “can be the Iowa of Africa.” Is that even feasible? Kimenyi knows Iowa’s farms because his son went to Iowa State University. African farmers do need help with technology and increasing productivity, he said. So he sees a place for large farms producing high-yield crops.

But as a model, he holds up the Clinton Foundation’s work in Malawi, where it leases and operates a large, so-called “anchor” farm and uses proceeds to extend credit to small farms. The project helps small farmers aggregate their output, get access to markets for their crops, negotiate prices and buy high-quality seeds and pesticides.

“It’s a large lease but not a land grab, because there are clearly defined objectives,” Kimenyi said.

AgriSol officials speak of doing similar things to help small farmers with eduction and “outgrower” programs. They claimed, in response to the earlier fiasco, that they would build schools and a health clinic and bring jobs. But the Oakland Institute pointed out that the company’s business plan and other documents do not mention such plans. “The tragedy,” Kimenyi says of some companies coming in, “is that they’re even entering agreements that the foods they grow do not have to enter the domestic market.” They may not create jobs because they bring their own labor and advanced technologies.

Up to 70 percent of Africa’s population is rural and depends on eating what the land produces. While development is necessary, the traditional, varied crops must be maintained to provide balanced diets, Kimenyi said.

The number of voices accusing AgriSol of being bad for Tanzania is growing. Whatever comes of the ethics issues involving Rastetter, what’s really at stake is whether African lands will be developed to benefit Africa’s people or be allowed to be a giant profit-making venture for foreign corporations.

If one thing has become clear, it’s the need to look at the fine print.

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