The following op-ed by CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey appeared in the August 1, 2012 edition of the Des Moines Register. You can access the original online version here.

Iowa regent, corporate CEO and political kingmaker Bruce Rastetter is clearly on the defensive after Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members filed a conflict-of-interests complaint against him last month. Otherwise he wouldn’t have spent so much time recently reaching out to media outlets across the state in an attempt to squash the growing public outcry and spin the story back his way.

The only thing Rastetter is proving is that the public must hold him accountable for his continued refusal to come clean about his role in the AgriSol/Iowa State University scandal. It’s time to call him out on his smoke-and-mirror denials and flim-flam excuses.

Iowa CCI members filed a conflict-of-interests complaint against Rastetter because the facts clearly show that he abused his role as a member of the Iowa Board of Regents in an attempt to leverage Iowa State University’s international reputation for a corporate land-grab in Tanzania. The project could net him and other investors hundreds of millions of dollars in profit while displacing up to 160,000 Burundi refugees from their homes.

Rastetter claims AgriSol is no longer interested in the refugee settlements. But his company’s public documents prove otherwise and show that AgriSol is pressuring Tanzania to evict the refugees so the company can set up shop.

The evidence linking Rastetter to the AgriSol/ISU negotiations is shocking and includes a trail of emails and documents detailing his involvement with the project long after he was appointed to the Board of Regents by Gov. Terry Branstad on Feb. 25, 2011.

Rastetter claims he had no “direct involvement” after his term began on May 1, 2011, but the facts show something different. On May 18, a check for $13,379.82 to cover travel expenses for a trip by ISU faculty and students to Tanzania was written from Rastetter’s business account. Emails show he discussed joint AgriSol/ISU funding agreements with ISU Associate Dean David Ackerman in May, June and July.

Rastetter finally disclosed his conflict-of-interests to the Board of Regents on June 17 and ultimately recused himself on Sept. 13. But his recusal came more than six months after he was appointed and four months after his term began. Rastetter’s “too little, too late” half-measures are not nearly good enough.

He should have disclosed his conflict and recused himself prior to beginning his term, not long after the fact and only after he was caught. Top AgriSol executive Eric Peterson continues to sit on the advisory board of ISU’s College of Agriculture. Kevin Kimle, the Rastetter Chair of Agriculture Entrepreneurship at ISU, uses a $1.75 million endowment from Rastetter to push a corporate agenda inside university circles.

Rastetter’s most serious ethics violation may be the financial disclosure form he submitted to the state on April 24, 2012, that lists him as merely a “farmer, self-employed” rather than disclosing the full extent of his many lucrative business interests, corporate ownerships and other investment income.

Rastetter says he may amend the disclosure form. But this concession will not change the fact that he was duty-bound to get it right the first time. He used a public office to pursue private financial gain. This reflects poorly on the state and comes at the loss of public trust in the integrity of state government. The Board of Regents should serve the common good, not corporate greed. It’s time for Rastetter to go.

Add your name to the petition calling on Branstad to Fire Bruce Rastetter:

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.

Click here to read more and add your name.





Join the fight

Last month, CCI members filed a conflict of interest complaint against Bruce Rastetter with the Iowa Ethics Board. The fact that Rastetter’s actions violate the State of Iowa’s general conflict of interest policy is obvious to everyone familiar with the situation.

But Rastetter’s misconduct also clearly violates the Board of Regents’ own conflict of interest policy. CCI members requested time on the agenda of the next Regents meeting to bring this important matter to the attention of the Board – but we were denied that opportunity not once but twice.

The Board of Regents doesn’t want the responsibility of enforcing their own ethics policy. Fortunately, the Ames Tribune did some digging and exposed the Board for trying to sweep this crucial matter under the rug. Read the article below!


Regents won’t put CCI on their agenda

By Hannah Furfaro

Staff Writer

They still have a pending ethics complaint filed with the Iowa ethics board, but the Des Moines-based advocacy group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement was dealt a setback Monday when its request to get a spot on the Iowa Board of Regents’ agenda at its next meeting was denied.

Iowa CCI, which filed an ethics complaint against the board’s president pro tem, Bruce Rastetter, in June, recently requested to go before the regents to discuss its conflict of interest policy. Sheila Doyle Koppin, communications director for the regents, said Tuesday the group’s request was denied twice in the last two weeks.

The group has been traveling around the state in recent weeks building support for its ethics complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, which accuses Rastetter of falsifying his financial disclosure forms this year and using his influence as a regent to get Iowa State University on board with an agricultural project his private company, AgriSol Energy, was working on in Tanzania.

At community forums and during media events over the last month, the group has called for the removal of Rastetter from his position as a regent.

Doyle Koppin said Robert Donley, executive director of the regents, denied Iowa CCI’s request because the board doesn’t have the power to remove Rastetter.

The denial letter from Donley, dated July 23, says he denied Iowa CCI a hearing at the regents’ meeting in Cedar Falls next week based on the group’s existing complaint with the state ethics board.

In the letter, Donley said Iowa CCI’s request to the regents contains the same facts as those presented in its formal ethics complaint. The state’s ethics board, he said, is better positioned to handle Iowa CCI’s request.

“The ethics board has been tasked with the responsibility of reviewing alleged conflict of interest violations for all branches of state government,” the letter reads. “Consequently, the board of regents is not the appropriate forum for resolving your concerns.”

Doyle Koppin said the decision was made in consultation with the board’s general counsel, but didn’t comment on whether denying agenda requests is common practice. She said Donley was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

David Goodner, of Iowa CCI, said the group hoped to discuss the regents’ specific conflict of interest policy, not the conflict of interest policy outlined in the Iowa Code, which is governed by the state’s ethics board.

“The regents’ ethics policy is something that entity came up with,” he said, “and presumably they are the ones that enforce it, so we requested a meeting with the board of regents … specifically to discuss the regents’ own ethics policy and that Rastetter violated it numerous times.”

Megan Tooker, executive director of the state ethics board, said her board does not have the authority to enforce the regents’ internal conflict of interest rules. The regents would be responsible for governing their own ethics code, she said.

But although they were denied a hearing, Goodner said about 100 members of Iowa CCI still plan to attend the regents’ meeting next week. While he stopped short of saying the group will hold a protest, Goodner said the group will try to make its case through informal means.

“There’s definitely an easy way and a hard way,” he said. “The easy way was to give us time on the board of regents’ agenda to discuss (its) ethics policy and how regent Rastetter violated that policy. The hard way is that we’re going to have a presence there and we’re going to make sure our voices are heard by the regents.”

Joe Murphy, spokesperson for Rastetter, said he didn’t have a comment on the regents’ policy or Iowa CCI’s request.

Add your name to the petition calling on Branstad to Fire Bruce Rastetter:

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.

Click here to read more and add your name.





Join the fight

We’ve put Bruce Rastetter on the defensive! This last week, he went on a statewide media blitz claiming that his AgriSol project was designed to benefit the people of Tanzania and that he never abused his position on the Board of Regents to secure Iowa State’s backing for the project.

Of course, we know better.

And now it’s time to make everyone aware of the real facts about his land grab and about his conflict of interest.

CCI members across the state are doing just that by writing to their local newspapers and speaking the truth about Rastetter’s unethical actions.

Find two of the many examples below:


Regent Bruce Rastetter should no longer serve

(Published in the Daily Iowan on July 23.)

Regent Bruce Rastetter should no longer serve on our state Board of Regents. Here are the allegations that deserve close scrutiny by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. His company, AgriSol, planned a Tanzanian refugee land-grab deal that was not reported to the regents until six weeks after he joined.

He created his own $1.75 million endowed professorship to help advance this project. He falsified state financial disclosures. He has a real or perceived conflict of interest with Iowa State University. He is using Iowa State’s prestige and our taxpayer dollars to promote his business interests. His company stood to make millions by bringing large-scale industrial agriculture to Africa at little or no benefit to the people there.

What more is needed to conclude that this man should not be an educational leader for our great university system? Well, consider that he has no background in education, that he asked the governor to make him a regent, and he was Gov. Terry Branstad’s largest contributor to 2010 campaign. We must stop corporate corruption from eroding the integrity of our university system.

-Virginia Meyer, Lone Tree


Be wary of corporate funds

(Published in the Ames Tribune on July 20.)

As an Iowa State graduate, former instructor, and 45-year resident of Ames, I am chagrined at the apparent intertwining of the interests of Regent Bruce Rastetter and Iowa State. It cheapens all Iowa State degrees and taints the reputation of all Iowa State scholars. It robs the citizens of Iowa of the benefits of their land grant institution.

The University is on a slippery slope when it accepts corporate sponsorship of research. Researchers can never fully dismiss the sources of their paychecks, as they affect selection and design of their work. The case of Bruce Rastetter co-opting Iowa State to line his own pocket and embarrass everyone is an object lesson in what can happen. Iowans must step up to fully fund their public universities. Administrators forced to carry tin cups to curry favor with corporate elites will be sorely tempted to cut crucial ethical corners. Iowa State University belongs to the citizens of Iowa, and we need to claim it and pay for it. Corporate money that destroy our institution is not a bargain.

Deborah Fink, Ames


Add your name to the petition calling on Branstad to Fire Bruce Rastetter:

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.

Click here to read more and add your name.



Join the fight

The following article was accessed on the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier website on July 20, 2012. You can find that article here. Emphasis added by Iowa CCI.

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa Regent Bruce Rastetter on Thursday defended working with Iowa State University to pursue a large-scale land development in Africa that could have benefited himself financially and blamed growing criticism over his involvement on misinformation and public relations mistakes.

Environmentalists and watchdog groups accuse the prominent Republican businessman of trying to use his influence as a member of the board that governs Iowa State to benefit AgriSol Energy, an investment group he founded and manages that is developing farmland in Tanzania.

Iowa State withdrew from the project in February in the face of mounting criticism and a state ethics board next month will consider a complaint alleging Rastetter had a clear conflict of interest.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Rastetter said he doesn’t think he did anything unethical in pursuing the plan. If it had succeeded, he said it could have not only made profit over time — he didn’t say how much, but tens of millions of dollars were at stake — but benefited the Tanzanian people by increasing their food supply and spurring economic development. He said his goal was to invest in a country that needs help.

He said AgriSol dropped its plan to develop land it had considered using after the company learned about problems in the Tanzanian government’s removal of up to 160,000 Burundi refugees who’ve been living there. Instead, he said AgriSol is developing uninhabited land elsewhere in Tanzania on a smaller scale.

Critics such as the Oakland Institute, a California watchdog that monitors land deals in Africa, have denounced AgriSol’s plans as a greedy land grab that improperly used Iowa State’s reputation and expertise.

Rastetter said he would never seek to displace refugees but critics’ claims went unchallenged for months as Rastetter kept quiet. He blamed his silence for allowing misinformation to “catch hold” and pressure to mount on ISU to pull out.

“I stayed out of it because of being a regent, not wanting to look like I was trying to influence anyone in the process,” he said. “I should have been more proactive.”
Rastetter also acknowledged that the project “might have been cleaner” from the public’s standpoint if a university professor whose job is funded by his donations had not been involved.

On Thursday, environmental group Food and Water Watch joined Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s ethics complaint alleging that Rastetter abused his position. The groups have been holding meetings across Iowa, including in Cedar Falls, in which they’ve portrayed Rastetter as emblematic of what they believe is the growing influence of corporations over land grant universities.

Members of Iowa CCI, known for its confrontational approach, surprised aides to Gov. Terry Branstad at their homes last weekend to lobby for Rastetter’s removal from the board.

Their complaint also alleges that Rastetter falsified his state financial disclosure form when he listed himself as a self-employed farmer and didn’t disclose his AgriSol investment. Rastetter said he is a self-employed farmer, but is considering revising the disclosure to provide more details about his investments because he “has nothing to hide.”

Critics have noted that Rastetter was appointed a regent and became the board’s president pro tem after donating $160,000 to Branstad. Rastetter in 2007 gave $1.75 million to ISU’s College of Agriculture to create an endowed professorship in agricultural entrepreneurship, a job held by Kevin Kimle, who helped advance AgriSol’s work in Tanzania.

Rastetter said he was motivated to donate to Branstad because of his policies and gave to Iowa State so that more students would learn about business. He said he asked Branstad to make him a regent so he could serve the public, noting he already helped convince lawmakers to increase funding for Iowa’s public universities by millions.

“Those that want to view me as using political influence for personal gain, which I have not, ought to realize that I use political influence for the universities that I have a role and responsibility on,” he said.

Rastetter said that public-private partnerships were good for universities and the public. ISU officials were to implement an AgriSol-funded program to provide a range of services and training to help farmers living nearby. He said Kimle, the Rastetter Chair of Agricultural Entrepreneurship, asked to get involved as a consultant for “the right reasons” because of his expertise, but perhaps should have been rejected.

He said he respected Iowa State’s decision to pull out, “because the controversy and misinformation was unrelenting.” But Rastetter said Tanzanian farmers will miss the school’s expertise and students will lose opportunities to study abroad.

Rastetter and AgriSol had been working with Iowa State for more than a year to plan the project before he became a regent. Weeks after he joined the board, he identified AgriSol as a potential conflict in a form held by the board. He said he had no “direct involvement” in discussions with Iowa State after that, but records show otherwise.

Last June, Rastetter emailed assistant ISU dean David Acker asking for a plan detailing “the division of responsibilities between the university and our commercial side.” Acker responded with a memo asking AgriSol to fund a five-year contract for the university’s work in Tanzania.

Rastetter said he doesn’t view the exchange as improper, and noted that no funding agreement was reached. He also noted that plans for Iowa State to seek a federal grant for the project with AgriSol were dropped after university officials identified the potential conflict in helping a regent’s investment firm receive tax dollars.

Rastetter describes documented land grab attempt as “misinformation.”

National powerhouse environmental group Food and Water Watch (FWW) has signed on to our ethics complaint against Iowa Regent and AgriSol CEO Bruce Rastetter stepping up criticism of the embattled Regent. FWW has been a long time ally of CCI.

“Rastetter has betrayed the trust of the Iowans he is supposed to be serving on the Board of Regents and has severely compromised the institutional credibility of ISU,” said FWW Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “His continued presence on the Board sends a strong message that Iowa State exists to serve the political and corporate elite, not the hard-working, honest family farmers and everyday citizens whose taxpayer dollars fund the university.”

FWW signed onto our ethics complaint on the same day that Rastetter denied any conflict of interest in an interview with the Des Moines Register. Rastetter claims that ISU pulled out of the AgriSol deal because of “misinformation” that was “difficult to counteract.” Far from being “mis-“information, CCI members know that the news about AgriSol and ISU was difficult to counteract because it was true! ISU and AgriSol were involved in shady dealings with the Tanzanian government that, far from feeding anybody, would have made millions of dollars while displacing 160,000 refugees.

CCI expects the ethics complaint to be considered by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on August 13.  CCI members have been hosting “Fire Rastetter” events all across the state, so check the calendar regularly to see when we will be in your area.

Add your name to the petition calling on Branstad to Fire Bruce Rastetter:

  • 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. Click here to read more and add your name.


Join the fight


LIKE and TWEET to share this article with your networks.

A letter from CCI member Susie Petra appeared in today’s edition of the Ames Tribune. Susie does a fantastic job of getting the word out about Bruce Rastetter’s misconduct! Her full letter is below.


I have always been proud to say that Iowa State University is my alma mater. I had inspiring instructors across many departments, and have made lasting friendships with many of them.

But as an alum, I have become deeply disappointed lately about ISU’s collusion with Regent Bruce Rastetter and his plans to displace over 160,000 refugees currently living in Tanzania. Mr. Rastetter proposed building a giant, industrial, corporate “farm” to allegedly help the refugees, who have been farming successfully using methods appropriate to that environment.

Mr. Rastetter proposed renting 800,000 acres for 25 cents per acre. Make no mistake, at prices like that, this arrangement would have meant BIG profits for Rastetter and his company AgriSol.

ISU’s College of Agriculture would have received some money for scholarships, as well. But ISU should be promoting policies which help farmers and consumers, not policies that enrich big corporations and corporate donors and hold no promise of scientific advancement. Mr. Rastetter did not disclose his conflict of interest when he proposed the project. Only AFTER the scandal had become public knowledge did both he and ISU distance themselves from the project.

Because of his egregious abuse of power and position, Mr. Rastetter has caused damage to ISU’s reputation of doing independent, fair-minded research. Mr. Rastetter should resign from the Iowa Board of Regents.

This incident raises a larger issue — increasing corporate money funding research at our public universities. This type of funding inevitably shapes the research carried out, influencing which questions are studied and which answers are taken seriously. The nature of research should be driven by scientists, not corporate donors. Money gives corporations power and influence over public universities, which have historically been our most productive source of independent-minded research.

This Thursday, July 19, two groups — Food & Water Watch and Iowa CCI — will be in Ames to provide more information about this issue. The public is invited to attend at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1015 N. Hyland at 7 p.m.

You can also sign a petition asking to have Mr. Rastetter removed from the Iowa Board of Regents:


Take Action

  • 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 interestClick here to read more and add your name.
  • Learn more about the meeting Susie mentions here.

Join the fight