DES MOINES, Iowa – State Auditor Rob Sand accused Gov. Kim Reynolds of breaking state law in the creation of a COVID-19 public service announcement campaign launched in November called the “Step Up and Stop the Spread Campaign.”
The campaign was designed to raise awareness of some of the mitigation steps that Iowans could take to help stop the spread of the coronavirus and featured Reynolds, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, former Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable, Carson King, University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran, and Test Iowa nurse Katie Witt.
Sand reported that $500,000 of CARES Act funds for the campaign, including $152,585 for paid advertisements on TV, radio, and the internet that included her image, voice, and title. He said that violated Iowa Code 68A.405A, which prohibits state elected officials’ self-promotion with taxpayer funding. The law passed and signed by Reynolds in 2018 was meant to address State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald’s use of taxpayer funds for self-promotion, including a mailer his office sent in 2014, six days before election day.
It reads in part, “Except as provided in sections 29C.3 and 29C.6, a statewide elected official or member of the general assembly shall not permit the expenditure of public moneys under the control of the statewide elected official or member of the general assembly, including but not limited to moneys held in a private trust fund as defined by section 8.2, for the purpose of any paid advertisement or promotion bearing the written name, likeness, or voice of the statewide elected official or member of the general assembly…”
“I’m proud of the ‘Step Up, Stop the Spread’ public service announcement,” Reynolds said in a released statement responding to Sand’s report. “I felt it was important for me and other leaders to address Iowans during the height of the pandemic. And the law clearly allows it.”
The governor’s office said that Sand’s report ignores the opening clause of the statute, which says, “Except as provided in sections 29C.3 and 29C.6.”
Iowa Code 29C.6 relates to the powers and authority of the governor during a public health disaster emergency. Reynolds argued she launched the PSA campaign to encourage Iowans to social distance and mask-wearing when the state saw a peak in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, something she states is an appropriate use of her emergency powers.
Iowa Code 29C.3 addresses the governor’s power to proclaim a state of public disorder.
The governor’s office said that promoting the requirements and recommendations of a disaster proclamation in a public awareness campaign is a clear example of the public-emergency exemption in Iowa’s image-and-likeness statute. They said section 29C.6(10) provides for the use of “all available resources of the state government as reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster emergency and of each political subdivision of the state.”
“Auditor Sand didn’t once ask to meet with our team regarding his concern or his investigation. If he had, we would have pointed him to this essential part of the law that he clearly missed,” said Chief of Staff Sara Craig.
Sand responded that Reynolds could have suspended the law in her emergency declaration but didn’t.
“68A.405A allows that Governor Reynolds could have suspended the law in one of her many COVID-19 disaster proclamations. She did not. Every proclamation issued by the Governor during the pandemic contained the following language: ‘Nothing contained in this declaration shall be construed as an exemption from any other portion of the Iowa Code or Iowa Administrative Code not specifically identified in this proclamation.’ 68A.405A was never mentioned in any of those proclamations. Therefore, the law prohibiting statewide elected officials from self-promotion through the use of public moneys applies,” he said.
However, Iowa Code 68A.405A , Iowa Code 29C.3, or Iowa Code 29C.6 does not state that the governor must specifically address this in a proclamation. Given that is the case, the necessary criteria seem to be that a public health emergency or state of public disorder exists.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, defended Reynolds.
“Gov Reynolds ought 2b complimented for spending taxpayer $$ wisely to urge Iowans to wear a mask/social distance during a public health emergency She’s being unjustly criticized by Iowa Democrats for using COMMON SENSE,” he tweeted.
Read the State Auditor report below:Stop the Spread Report_FINAL