Tom Harkin
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari) Haraz N. Ghanbari

A Republican state senator is objecting to a proposed public policy institute at Iowa State University named after U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

State Sen. Sandra Greiner, R-Keota, sent the letter Friday to the state Board of Regents.

Greiner said the institute would give Harkin, a sitting senator, an unfair political advantage. And she questioned whether donations for the institute, which would come from private sources, would be sought from interests with business before the U.S. Senate.

"The inclusion of this proposed institute raises serious questions about transparency within the regents system, and also raises very alarming ethical questions," she wrote.

Greiner said in the letter the agenda item shows the proposal has been under discussion within the university for some time.

She asked that its consideration be postponed.

The Board of Regents agenda for its meeting next week has an item seeking approval for a "Harkin Institute of Public Policy" at Iowa State.

Harkin is an ISU alumnus, and the agenda says the institute would "become a hub for public policy disscussion and programming, and will host local, state, and national practitioners who are recognized leaders in development and impacts of public policy."

It adds the institute would "likely establish itself as a leading source for research and expertise on the Iowa Caucuses."

A spokesman for Iowa State referred questions to the Board of Regents. A board spokesman couldn't be reached.

Harkin declined comment, but a spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party criticized Greiner for her connection to the American Future Fund, a Des Moines-based advocacy group that targeted Democrats during last year's elections but wouldn't disclose the identity of its donors. Greiner is listed as president of the group.

"I'm surprised to see Senator Greiner suddenly taking an interest in transparency," said Sam Roecker, the spokesman.

The Regents agenda noted that there are other public policy institutes named after politicians, such as former U.S. Sens. Paul Simon of Illinois, Trent Lott of Mississippi and Pete Domenici of New Mexico.

The Lott institute opened while the Republican still was in office, but the one named for Simon, a Democrat, opened after he left the Senate.

The Domenici institute was established in early 2008, and the Republican senator from New Mexico left office later that year.