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Civic Skinny

Political money train goes in and out of Iowa

10/24/2012

The race between Congressional incumbents Leonard Boswell and Tom Latham must be close. Or, at least, the disbursing agents in Washington must think it’s close. Between Oct. 2 and Oct. 18, the national parties and political action committees poured more than $1.8 million into political advertising in the third district.                

And most of it has been for ads opposing Boswell or Latham, both of whom are incumbents.                

Examples: On Oct. 15, the Congressional Leadership Fund — that’s a Republican group — spent $250,000 here on radio, television and web video ads assailing Democrat Boswell. On Oct. 16, the Democratic Congressional Committee spent $192,628 on a media buy opposing Republican Latham. On Oct. 13, the Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategy group — a conservative group — spent $193,927 on ads against Boswell. On Oct. 9, the Democratic Congressional Committee spent $219,000 on media buys against Latham.                

Not counting these so-called independent expenditures, through Sept. 30 Boswell had raised $1,477,562 and spent $1,316,561, and he had $226,277 cash on hand. (Yeah, numbers don’t always add up.) Latham had raised $3,113,003 and spent $2,194,363, and he had $1,509,682 cash on hand. About two-thirds of Latham’s money and about half of Boswell’s came from political action committees; the rest came from individuals, who can give a maximum of $5,000 to a candidate over the two-year election cycle.                

In contrast, very little independent money has gone into television buys this month in the fourth district, where Democrat Christie Vilsack is running a strong race against incumbent Republican Steve King. On Oct. 15, the National Federation of Independent Business/Save America Free Enterprise Trust bought $416,334 in ads opposing Vilsack, and on Oct 15 the political action committee of the Credit Union National Association spent $66,841 on radio ads and production supporting her. On Oct. 9, the Humane Society Legislative Fund bought $366,000 of advertising in support of Vilsack, and on Oct. 5 the National Republican Congressional Committee spent about $120,000 in ads opposing her.                

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Again, not counting independent expenditures, Vilsack had raised $2,765,854 through Sept. 30 and spent $2,317,719, according to Federal Election Commission figures. She had cash on hand of $438,134. King had raised $3,169,684 and spent $2,313,539. He had $1,027,242 in the till. A bit more than 80 percent of the money each candidate has raised has come from individuals.                

So far, Iowans have given $3,323,370 to this year’s presidential campaigns — $1,376,334 to President Barack Obama, $1,944,194 to nine Republicans and some nickels and dimes to third-party candidates. As of Sept. 30, Gov. Mitt Romney has gotten $1,189,350 from Iowans. The second-biggest outlay: $278,468 to Ron Paul.                

Most of the money has come from the Des Moines area. People who live in zip codes that start with 503 have given $565,431. People in codes starting with 502 — that would include West Des Moines and other suburbs — have given $452,284.                

The Des Moines Register’s Congressional endorsements didn’t surprise political watchers. It endorsed Vilsack because she’s not King, Latham because Boswell is old, Bruce Braley because he’s smart, and Dave Loebsack because his opponent is loopy. But the three-to-one tip toward liberal Democrats might require some artful writing if the paper — as many expect — endorses Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. But it wouldn’t be the first time the newspaper had to do some acrobatics. A generation or two ago it invested in the then-new Marriott Hotel while opposing it editorially. …                

Wendy Long, a very conservative and very smart lawyer who is running a tilting-at-windmills campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, once was a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She has called him “one of the greatest living judges in America,” according to The New York Times. Presumably one of the others is Steve Colloton of Des Moines, a judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. He’s her brother-in-law.                

A tilting-at-windmills campaign? As of Sept. 30, she had raised $601,720. Her opponent, Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, had raised $14,639,616. Long had received no contributions from Iowa. …                

Sales of older downtown condos seem to be heating up. Three units at the Brown-Camp Lofts sold in September, raising to 10 the number sold so far this year. One of the September sales: City manager Rick Clark sold his 1,341-square-foot, fourth-floor unit for $249,000 to the Mary Ellen Miller Revocable Trust. Clark and his wife, Iowa Public Radio head Mary Grace Herrington, moved into a townhouse she owned in Southern Hills.                

Two units have sold recently in the White Line Lofts, and 15 have been sold this year in the Plaza condominiums, which recorded 12 sales in all of last year. Four units in the Hubbell project at 119 4th St. have sold. The townhouses Hubbell built last year between 2nd and 3rd on Watson Powell Way all seem to have sold quickly. …                

There seems to be a deal in the works for Polk County to get control of the old Penney’s Building downtown, which has been empty since Wellmark moved into its sparkling new headquarters on Grand Avenue. The Penney’s building is just across the street from the courthouse, which is bursting at the seams, and county officials would like to put new courtrooms and judges’ chambers in the Penney building. Voters would have to approve a bond issue for that, but the county wants the building irrespective of that.                

County officials and business leaders and Wellmark have been dancing around each other on the issue for years, but this time it’s real, says a guy who is involved. As part of the deal, the county and Wellmark would put together the empty convention complex and Wellmark’s adjacent lot — those make up that huge block that fronts Grand between 5th and 6th streets — and make it available. One possible use: A new site for the downtown YMCA.              

Talk of a new hotel near the convention center and Vets Auditorium is also heating up, and the new downtown development group is assembling land there, just in case. CV

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