By Hannah Furfaro
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.
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