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Iowa Watchdog

Iowa lawmakers mum on details of earnings

3/14/2013

DES MOINES – State senators in Iowa sidestepped questions this week regarding their annual compensation and stalled the release of information offering a more detailed view of their expenses.

Iowa Watchdog requested a breakdown of lawmaker compensation, including their salary, per diem, constituency costs, lodging and meal receipts and mileage. Officials with the state Senate directed the Department of Administrative Services not to release their information, while members of the House opted for disclosure at no cost.

(Search House members’ pay records here.)

The Senate then told Iowa Watchdog it would have to pay $200 for the records. 

Mike Marshall, secretary of the Senate, said he would only produce the information if given a deposit to cover the entire cost, which included an estimated 10 hours of work at a cost of $20 an hour.

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The “financial data requested have historically been deemed public records by the Iowa Senate,” Marshall said. But the Iowa Constitution allows lawmakers the final authority to decide what information is subject to public release, he said.

“That prerogative overrides any conflicting provisions of the Open Records statute,” Marshall wrote in an email.

Basically, unlike all executive branch agencies and local governments, lawmakers don’t have to comply with Open Records and Meetings laws in Iowa. They release information only when it suits them.

Iowa lawmakers not transparent in disclosing compensation details. TRANSPARENCY FOR THEE: The Iowa Senate refused a public records request for basic details of senators’ compensation.

Iowa lawmakers not transparent in disclosing compensation details.
TRANSPARENCY FOR THEE: The Iowa Senate refused a public records request for basic details of senators’ compensation.

Marshall did not respond to repeated requests from Iowa Watchdog for clarification on the Senate’s fee for information that was provided for the Iowa House at no charge.

Legislators dictate what information officials with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services are allowed to release, said Caleb Hunter, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

“We released the House’s data per their request,” he wrote in an email.

An Iowa Watchdog analysis of that information showed leaders in the House earned more than $50,000 apiece in fiscal year 2012 and requested thousands of additional dollars in mileage, meals and lodging reimbursements. That comes on the heels of a January Watchdog investigation that showed lawmakers set healthy salaries and provide themselves access to costly health benefits and pensions.

Kraig Paulsen, Republican Speaker of the House, had the most take-home pay, earning a salary of $49,171 in fiscal year 2012. Add to that another $13,500 in stipends during the session and $3,600 to reach out to his constituents.

He also racked up the largest tab when it came to mileage, lodging and meals. Combined they cost taxpayers more than $8,500, according to the analysis.

In all, Paulsen earned $74,822 – the highest compensation for any member of the House.

Josie Albrecht, communications director for Paulsen, attributed the House leader’s higher expenses and pay to the additional time he spends in Des Moines attending meetings outside of the regular session. She added that Paulsen only requests a reimbursement of $40 a night for lodging instead of the $63 allowed under Iowa law.

Albrecht said she “didn’t think” Speaker Paulsen would comment for this story. At that point, she threatened to cut off Iowa Watchdog’s access to her office if it did not move her previous comments to off-the-record. However, if Iowa Watchdog didn’t use her comments, she said she would grant an interview with Paulsen.

“On second thought, how about we arrange for a time for the Speaker to call you, and then you can use his quotes, not mine.  We don’t have a spokesperson because he speaks for himself,” she said.

During a prior conversation regarding questions about legislative pay, Albrecht said, “I’m a communications director, not a press secretary. … This will be the last time I speak to you or your organization.”

Paulsen never returned requests for comment.

Just behind Paulsen was House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, who collected a total of $69,284.30. She did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Democrat Kevin McCarthy, House minority leader, earned the third highest amount last fiscal year at $57,385.30. When asked for comment regarding the payments, he said he didn’t do interviews with Iowa Watchdog.

Several legislators who did respond offered a more detailed explanation as to the breakdown of the costs they accrued. For example, Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said his mileage totaling $3,6,14 came from traveling to legislative conferences and weekly trips home during the session. It also included travel costs for attending interim committee and commission meetings, he said.

Legislators can seek reimbursement for one round trip a week back to their district and are reimbursed at a rate of 39 cents a mile.

Taxpayers paid members of the state House $2.7 million in salary costs, including $60,000 in per diems for meetings attended when the Legislature is not in session. They spent another $360,000 to pay for meetings with constituents and $1.3 million in stipends during the session, whether they lawmakers were in attendance or not.

Another $186,900 went for mileage, in addition to the $677 and $5,075 reimbursed for meals and lodging, respectively.

Tushar Rae graduated from Augustana College In Rock Island, Ill., in 2012, with a B.A. in teaching history. 

He has previously written for The Chronicle of Higher Education, interned at The Quad-City Times and served as editor-in-chief of the Augustana Observer.  He can be reached at tusharrae@gmail.com.

Contact Sheena Dooley at dooley@iowawatchdog.org. Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for Watchdog.org, where this story first appeared.

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