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Civic Skinny

Political money report: who gives, who gets

10/23/2013

Republican Congressman Tom Latham has raised close to $1 million in his effort to keep the seat he won last year when he moved into Iowa’s newly designed Third Congressional District. His opponent, Democrat Staci Appel, has raised a bit more than $250,000, according to reports filed the other day with the Federal Election Commission.

Latham went into the latest quarterly reporting period with a lot under the mattress, and he added $417,051 in the quarter. That put his total raised at $978,296, and at the end of the period he had $871,498 cash on hand.

Appel had nothing in the bank at the start of the period and raised $238,877 in the quarter. At the end of the reporting period, she had cash on hand of $199,663, less than a quarter of what Latham had.

Latham and Appel both are getting nice checks from the Des Moines area, but Latham has more big ones. So far, Latham has gotten $5,200 checks from Greg Abel and Jim Cownie and Pattie Cownie and Debra Hansen and — surprisingly — long-time Democrats Bill Knapp and Susan Knapp. (The Knapps have given nothing to Appel, at least not yet.) Latham has received $5,100 from Gary Kirke and $5,000 from John Pappajohn, $2,600 from Doug Gross and Cameron Sutton and $2,500 from Mike Richards and Gene Gabus.

The maximum a person can give in a federal election is $5,200, and Appel has picked up that amount from Owen Newlin and Doris Newlin and Ed Skinner and Lois Skinner and Brad Skinner. Kathy Zimpleman wrote a check for $2,600, as did Mary Middleton and David Hurd, and Bob Riley is in for $2,500. Appel has lots of $1,000 checks — from Fred Hubbell and Jim Hubbell and Herb Eckhouse and Kathy Eckhouse and Harry Bookey and Bonnie Campbell and Fred Weitz and Connie Wimer and several of the other usual Democratic suspects.

As of Oct. 1, the district — which is basically Des Moines and the southwest quarter of the state — had 164,361 registered Republicans, 157,411 registered Democrats and 158,721 registered independents. There are 16 counties in the district, and only Polk has more Democrats than Republicans. But that’s a wide margin — 103,726 to 81,570, with 82,452 registered independents.

In the Fourth District, Steve King must think his race against Jim Mowrer this year will be easier than the contest with Christie Vilsack two years ago. As of Oct. 1, King had raised $343,231 — just a bit more than half of the $624,423 he had raised at this point in the campaign two years ago. But he’s still well ahead of Mowrer, who has brought in $181,514 in this year’s campaign. King hasn’t raised much money in Des Moines, but Mowrer has gotten $2,600 checks from Bill Knapp and Kathy Zimpleman, $2,000 from Sandra Rasmussen and $1,000 each from Toni Urban and Herb Eckhouse and Michael Sherzan.

Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the district, 178,024 to 127,092, with 175,379 voters registered as independents. There are 39 counties in the district, which covers the northwest quarter of the state, and while a few — Story and Cerro Gordo and Carroll, among them — are slightly Democratic, most are overwhelmingly Republican. …

City council elections are routine and not very costly in most Iowa cities, but next month’s election in Coralville is bitter and costly — and is attracting interest from some folks who usually have bigger issues to deal with. Four people are running for the open mayoralty spot, and eight candidates, including two incumbents, are running for three open seats on the council.

The issue is the city’s high debt — city manager Kelly Hayworth has long been a believer in issuing lots of bonds — and that has caught the attention of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by the Koch Brothers, and of Des Moines lawyer and Republican operative Doug Gross. Campaign reports aren’t due for another few days, but “I don’t think anyone is going to outspend me, let’s put it that way,” the Iowa director of Americans for Prosperity told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Gross told Cityview that he’s not “directly involved,” but noted the high debt and said the city owns the Iowa River Landing commercial development and is using tax-increment bonds “to subsidize competition with existing business” while raising valuations of those businesses. One of those businesses: General Growth Properties, which owns Coral Ridge Mall. One lawyer for Coral Ridge: Doug Gross.

Coralville, with a population of 19,962, has the highest per-capita debt in the state. The Moody’s rating service downgraded the city’s bond rating this summer. “It’s a financial mess,” Gross says. …

On the agenda for this week’s Board of Regents meeting: A plan to spend $205,000 to upgrade the entrance courtyard, the lawn, the streetscape and the wooded areas around the university-owned home of Iowa State President Steve Leath. The money would come from the ISU Foundation. CV

 

COMMENT: Judge Pratt

Good for Judge Bob Pratt.

A year ago, the Senior Judge for the Southern District of Iowa presided over a lengthy, contentious — and, at the end, bizarre — trial in which two men who had served 25 years in prison were suing the city of Council Bluffs and two policemen who were involved in the pair’s conviction for a 1977 murder.

The pair were released from their life sentences in 2003 after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that they had been wrongly convicted because the state had withheld evidence. The state chose not to prosecute them anew, and then they began suing for damages. One case went to the Supreme Court of the United States and was settled after the arguments there but before a decision. In that case, the two men got about $12 million from Pottawattamie County.

The other case, against the city and the policemen, went up and down in the court system until it ended up with Judge Pratt a year ago. One of the defendants was represented by the famous trial lawyer Gerry Spence, who was then 83 years old and who said it was to be his final trial. Lawyers came from all over the world to watch his closing arguments, and he didn’t disappoint. He asked for $63 million for his client.

Spence hadn’t lost a civil trial since 1969, but when the jury came in they sided with the city and the policemen. Judge Pratt then polled the jurors in open court to ensure that they agreed with the finding — and to the astonishment of everyone, three jurors said they disagreed. You can spend a lifetime in court and never see that happen. The judge, initially as flummoxed as everyone, declared a mistrial.

The new trial was to begin last week.

But a few days before the trial was to start, the two sides said they reached a settlement. They met with Federal Magistrate Thomas Shields, who then filed the settlement with the court — but, at the parties’ request, put it under seal that kept the terms secret.

That was on a Friday afternoon. When word got out Monday that the settlement was filed under seal, journalists started asking questions. The Associated Press filed a freedom-of-information request on Monday with the lawyer for the city of Council Bluffs. And on Monday evening, Register editorial writer Rox Laird — long a champion of openness — sent an e-mail to Judge Pratt noting that “it would violate state law for Council Bluffs to keep the amount its taxpayers will have to pay a secret.” And he asked: “Can a federal judge order a city to violate state law.”

That was the first Pratt knew about the order. So the first thing he did Tuesday morning was unseal it. His order was short and to the point. Ordinarily, courts “recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents,” he said, quoting a case involving Richard Nixon. (Democrat Pratt must have enjoyed that.) While this right is not absolute, “only the most compelling reasons can justify non-disclosure of judicial records,” he wrote, quoting another federal court case.

Then he concluded: “The Court is aware of no compelling reason that would justify keeping the Settlement sealed….Moreover, the Settlement appears subject to mandatory disclosure under Iowa’s Public Records Law….Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the public interest in open access to the Court and its records outweighs any potential interest of the parties in keeping the Settlement under seal.”

And he removed the seal. The settlement discloses that Council Bluffs will pay $6,199,500 over the next seven years.

Good for the Associated Press in filing its request in Council Bluffs (though bad for the AP in implying in print that its request is what opened the record).

Good for Rox Laird in e-mailing Judge Pratt.

But, especially, good for Judge Bob Pratt. CV

— Michael Gartner

Jokers