WATERLOO — A group connected with a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party is attacking former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, for being too liberal.
Branstad, however, said Iowans who will participate in the GOP primary are smart enough to see through the ploy.
A mailer that hit Cedar Valley mailboxes this past week depicts a bust of Branstad atop Mount Rushmore with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Liberal Terry Branstad would make Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi proud,” the flier proclaims, adding Iowans under Branstad endured 30 tax and fee increases during his 16 years as governor.
The flier also states Branstad “legalized the lottery and gambling that has spread to every corner of the state” and “twice chose a pro-choice lieutenant governor.” That statement refers to Joy Corning, a former state senator from Cedar Falls.
A second flier inserts an image of a red, white and blue donkey into a question: “What kind of a ... raised Iowa taxes 30 times? It wasn’t a Democrat. It was Terry Branstad.”
The fliers come from an organization called Iowans for Responsible Government, listing 2501 Westown Parkway in West Des Moines as its address. Organizational papers on file with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board list Rob Tully as the contact person for the group.
Tully, an attorney in Des Moines, is a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. Formerly of Dubuque, Tully unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle of Manchester in 1998.
Branstad characterized Tully as a known commodity.
“He’s a liberal trial lawyer from Des Moines,” Branstad told the Waterloo Courier’s editorial board, “and it’s being sent to Republicans. Basically, it’s a deceptive way to try to fool them. They’re underestimating the intelligence of the Republican primary voter.”
State ethics board Director Charlie Smithson said Iowans for Responsible Government is a Section 527 political organization under the Internal Revenue Code.
That means the group registers with the IRS, and the Ethics Board posts those reports on its website, Smithson said.
“But we don’t oversee their activities so long as they are not making campaign contributions to Iowa committees and their communications are not ‘express advocacy,’ meaning they are not telling people how to vote,” Smithson added.
The group’s fliers do not encourage votes against Branstad or for another candidate, but rather suggest people call Branstad “and tell him 16 years of liberal government is enough” or “that 30 tax hikes are enough.”
Branstad suggested voters follow the money.
“We’re disclosing all of our contributors. They’re not disclosing who their contributors are,” he said. “They’re getting corporate money. And it’s a whole list of distortions and misrepresentations.”
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Branstad said he cut taxes by $124 million and built up a $900 million cash reserve during his time as governor.
“They know I’m the frontrunner” in the Republican gubernatorial primary, he said, “and they know if they have to compare my record with (incumbent Gov. Chet) Culver’s, he’s toast. So they’re trying to damage me.”
Branstad is competing for the Republican nomination against businessman Bob Vander Plaats and state Rep. Rod Roberts.
Frank Severino, Roberts’ campaign manager, said his candidate’s campaign “doesn’t condone” the fliers.
“We think it’s totally disrespectful of the governor’s record,” Severino said.
Eric Woolson, Vander Plaats’ spokesman and Branstad’s former gubernatorial press secretary, said Tully’s apparent involvement with Iowans for Responsible Government “speaks for itself.”
Calls to Tully’s law office were not returned.