CEDAR RAPIDS — Republicans are playing hardball with an Iowa Democratic congressional candidate’s efforts five years ago to secure a tax break for a Marion baseball and softball complex developed by a former client of her family’s business.
The Republican Party of Iowa called efforts by state Sen. Liz Mathis to convince her colleagues to support the tax break for a client that paid her husband’s firm nearly $150,000 “self-serving” and, according to the Republican National Committee, “shady, to say the least.”
Mathis rejects those characterizations. The payments were for fundraising work done in 2012 and 2013, she said, prior to her efforts in 2016 to win legislative support for the tax credit, which in no way benefits her or ME&V, now AMPERAGE. Her husband, Mark, is a co-founder and one of the firm’s three partners. Mathis lists herself as “co-owner” in her Senate financial disclosure.
The Hiawatha Democrat announced earlier this week that she will challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson in Iowa’s 20-county 1st District that includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Marshalltown.
Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told reporters Thursday there is no allegation that Mathis’ efforts were illegal or “an official ethics issue.” Neither was he critical of Prospect Meadows — “a worthy project” -- nor did he take issue with the tax credit.
However, he said there’s a “pretty glaring transparency issue.”
Kaufmann, a county supervisor, community college professor and former legislator, has a “smell test in politics.” If Mathis didn’t disclose to the legislators she lobbied that the tax break would benefit one of her husband’s former clients, “this ol' Cedar County boy thinks we need to at least ask the question.”
“There was nothing to disclose,” Mathis said. “The fundraising work was done long before the tax credit conversation started.”
Based on tax filings, the GOP said Prospect Meadows paid the marketing firm co-founded by Mark Mathis $94,298 in tax year 2012 and $54,588 the following year for “production of promotion materials and consulting.”
The basis for the GOP charge is a Fox News story by a reporter who previously worked as “senior investigative research analyst” for the Republican National Committee. It cited comments Mathis made to The Gazette in 2016.
Senators were reluctant to approve the measure, but Mathis convinced them after it was scaled back from $16.5 million to $5 million with a $2.5 million cap for individual projects. It’s similar to assistance the Legislature has provided Field of Dreams and racetracks at Newton and Knoxville.
“It took a lot of hard work to get this bill to the Capitol and convince fellow legislators Prospect Meadows would be a good project for not only our area, but for the state,” Mathis told The Gazette at that time. “People wrote off the bill to defeat, but never say never.”
Her involvement began when Prospect Meadows leaders approached a bipartisan group of legislators, Mathis said.
“We all worked with the city of Marion, Linn County, MEDCO (Marion Economic Development Corporation) and several other groups in the community to get this off the ground,” Mathis said Thursday. “I saw economic development possibilities that had bipartisan support.”
Prospect Meadows is having its busiest months since opening in 2019, with economic development officials expecting tournaments in July to fill 5,000 hotel rooms and generate $5 million in economic activity.