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Civic Skinny

August 25, 2011
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Money stuff: Scalise, Culver, Sweeney, Grassley, Rastetter

Your tax dollars at work: If Larry Scalise were a court-appointed lawyer representing an indigent, he'd be paid $60 an hour by the state. But he's a "special prosecutor" looking into that $25,000 campaign contribution Chet Culver got from gambling interests in 2009. So he's paid $80 an hour.

If Larry Scalise and his paralegals were representing an indigent charged with an aggravated misdemeanor — that's what the gambling charge is — the state would pay them no more than a combined $1,200. So far, the state has paid Coppola, McConville, Coppola, Hockenberg & Scalise $87,610.46 for the campaign case, the keeper of the invoices told Skinny last week.

If Larry Scalise were a regular prosecutor, not a "special" prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Tom Miller, he would have to go to trial within 90 days of when charges were brought. Charges in the gambling case were filed Oct. 11, 2010. Trial now is set for Oct. 10, 2011.

And Larry Scalise might be looking at further delay. In May, he dropped charges against Brent Stevens and Jonathan Swain of Peninsula Gaming, saying he didn't have enough evidence to prove they made a donation to Culver in someone else's name. That prompted the other two defendants, Davenport lawyer Curtis Beason and Fort Dodge businessman Steve Daniel, to ask what, exactly, they're now being charged with, since they originally were accused of making that funneled contribution. Last week, a Polk County magistrate said, in effect, that that's a good question. He told Scalise to provide more information to the remaining defendants.

Which, of course, Scalise will do.

At $80 an hour. ...

Scalise, who was Iowa attorney general from 1965 to 1967 and who now is 78 years old, is seldom in a hurry. In 1995, he was appointed deputy independent counsel in the federal government's investigation of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. He spent seven years looking into various allegations. That investigation cost taxpayers more than $22 million. Cisneros ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined $10,000. The case was finally closed after 10 years. ...

Culver and money were back in the news the other day. "Join us as we get the band back together to retire campaign debt, renew old friendships and launch Gov. Culver to his new role," said an invitation inviting friends old and new to a $50-a-head event at Lucca in the East Village. Culver's last filing with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, which was Jan.19 of this year, indicated he had debts of $18,238 plus a $50,000 unpaid balance on a $100,000 loan from Bill Knapp.

It's unclear why he's moving now to repay the debt, but perhaps it's because of that debt to Knapp. Culver has been nominated to serve on the board of the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation — "Farmer Mac" — but he hasn't yet been confirmed by the Senate. One possible reason: he owes that money to Knapp, who owns agricultural land, and that might be considered a conflict for Culver. The Farmer Mac board meets six times a year, and directors get an annual retainer of $24,000 plus $1,200 a day (plus expenses) for each board meeting and committee meeting plus $1,200 a day "for certain other meetings and conferences with borrowers, lenders or other groups." The 15-person board is chaired by Lowell Junkins, the former majority leader of the Iowa Senate who then was from Montrose but now operates Lowell Junkins & Associates in Des Moines. ...

"You should ask around about the rift between [Sen. Chuck] Grassley and [Republican player] Bruce Rastetter," says an e-mail from a guy who always knows what he's talking about. "The Senator is fund-raising for his grandson Pat. Rastetter is supporting Annette Sweeney and will be fund-raising for her."

Legislative incumbents Pat Grassley and Sweeney were thrown into the same House district after the redistricting this year, and neither has backed out. Rastetter has been a consistent giver to two-term incumbent Sweeney and has never supported three-term incumbent Pat Grassley, state records show. Rastetter and Sweeney have known each other since they were young. He gave Sweeney $500 last September and another $500 when she ran two years earlier. Perhaps more interesting: Barbara Grassley, the senator's wife and Pat's grandmother, gave Sweeney $200 last year and gave her grandson $300 in September of 2009. Chuck Grassley, who is worth somewhere between $2 million and $6 million, has never contributed anything to his grandson — or, for that matter, to any other candidate for state office in recent years. According to state records, his contribution record is rather slim: $50 to Iowans for Tax Relief in 2007 and $14 to Iowans for Tax Relief in 2004.

Rastetter gave the maximum $4,800 to Chuck Grassley in the last Senate go-round, and in 2008 and 2009 he also threw in $58,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, another nod toward the Iowa Senator.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call had a piece on Steve King Monday, telling how he is being constantly wooed by presidential candidates. He'll endorse someone after Labor Day, but until then he's the popular guy at the dance. Still, that worries some. " "He's got a more competitive district now than he's ever had before,' Gentry Collins, the former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party and former RNC political director, told Roll Call. "I think he needs to be a little more careful about his own political fortunes and maybe a little less focused on presidential politics.'" King's opponent, Christie Vilsack, so far is out-hustling him in the district and has raised far more money.

A correction: Skinny had the number of registered voters in Iowa all screwed up last week. Here's how a paragraph on the Ames Straw Poll should have read:

"As of Aug. 1, there were 1,961,718 active voters in the state of Iowa. Of those, 610,285 were Republicans. Of those — presumably — 16,892 'voted' in the Ames straw poll on Saturday. Of those, 4,823 voted for Michele Bachmann. And the 'voters' had to show $30 tickets, tickets that presumably were paid for by the campaigns. So....

Bachmann won the straw poll by getting 28 percent of the votes in Ames, 2.7 percent of the votes of Iowa Republicans, and 0.8 percent of the ballots of all registered voters in the state. And she paid $30 a pop to get most of that 28 percent or 2.7 percent or 1.2 percent, whichever figure you want to use. The poll tax is alive and well in Iowa."

Next week: Who knows? CV

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