DES MOINES — Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, a 2018 GOP candidate for governor, pledged this week not to raise or accept “any D.C., special-interest swamp money” in his “underdog” June 5 primary challenge, and he called upon Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to do the same.
Corbett, 56, told reporters he has raised $804,020 mostly from individual Iowans in three weeks since he announced his run for governor and has another $219,000 in “hard” commitments that make him a financially viable challenge to Reynolds, who became governor in May when Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.
“What this shows is that people around the state of Iowa aren’t bought into this establishment narrative that the race is over before it starts. The race is just beginning,” he said. “I think it shows that Iowans around the state aren’t exactly comfortable with Kim Reynolds carrying the status-quo baton for the next four years, that they’re really open to new faces with a new agenda and a new game plan.”
Corbett said he expects he will have to raise another $1 million to build a campaign treasury of $2.3 million to run “a very strong” challenge to Reynolds’ GOP establishment-backed campaign.
During a Wednesday news conference, he challenged Reynolds to join him in refusing donations from political action committees, federal lobbyists and special interest groups as well as denouncing in advance any outside attack ads financed by independent groups not required to divulge donor names.
“We don’t need Washington, D.C., money meddling in Iowa politics. We don’t need the special-interest groups trying to influence Iowa voters. We don’t need this swamp money sponsoring fake TV ads two and three months out before the election,” Corbett said. “If we’re going to change how much money is in politics, it has to start with the candidates.”
The GOP challenger noted that Reynolds already has banked $1 million in campaign money but did so with the help of Branstad and contributions she likely garnered during trips to the nation’s capital. He called upon Reynolds to sign the pledge not to accept “swamp money from D.C.” and return any special-interest contributions she may have accepted already, including assistance from the Republican Governors Association.
“The establishment has jumped on the bandwagon behind Kim Reynolds,” Corbett said. "I realize the establishment is trying to not have a primary, and they’ve done a lot of work trying to convince people that I don’t have a chance. That narrative is a fake narrative. I do have shot."
Reynolds has hired a campaign staff and said she plans to run with acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, a former state public defender. This week, she announced that Iowa’s two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, will serve as her 2018 campaign’s co-chairs, joining Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and more than 1,050 county chairs from all 99 counties in support of the Reynolds-Gregg camp.
Corbett, a former Iowa House speaker elected seven times before becoming a two-term mayor since 2010, is running on a “core four” platform of issues, saying Iowa has receded in K-12 education, has an unfair, uncompetitive and complicated income tax system, has failed to address water quality issues and needs more compassion and concern about the well-being of Iowans.
He has been traveling the state since 2015 with his “conservative think tank” Engage Iowa and more recently on a book tour for “Beyond Promises” to discuss his vision.
Phil Valenziano, manager for the Reynolds-Gregg campaign, said Reynolds filed a campaign finance report as lieutenant governor last January indicating that 95 percent of the money she raised were contributions from people within Iowa and the rest were former Iowans or from border areas.
“So I guess that’s right in line there,” he said.
Valenziano said he wasn’t familiar with the details of Corbett’s proposal, which he viewed as “very vague,” but he noted that the governor is “thrilled” with the support she has received, especially with the addition of Grassley and Ernst as campaign co-chairs.
“If the intent is to keep support coming from Iowans, obviously, we’ve sort of checked that box with 95 percent of support of our financial contributions in 2016 coming from Iowa.”