Letter to the Editor

Letter and spirit

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In the final hours of its 2018 session, the Iowa legislature passed a ban on taxpayer-funded paid advertisements in political campaigns. That ban took effect on July 1 and prohibits lawmakers from using taxpayer-funded resources to promote their written names or likenesses in newspapers and elsewhere for paid advertising in a campaign. The prohibitions under the new law exempt "common and frequent constituent correspondence."

John H. Wills, House Representative for District 1, after publishing a post-session legislative wrap-up, has not (based on his official newsletter file) previously commonly published legislative newsletters outside of the legislative session. In 2018 though, his July 5 newsletter is part of an ongoing series following an initial May 11 session wrap-up letter. The most recent 2018 wrap-up letter came out June 22. The July 5 letter recounts 2018 legislative activity and indicates his intention to continue to publish newsletters over the "next few months."

Even if paid, the ongoing newspaper publication of such newsletters during a summer campaign season would arguably not depending on the interpretation of the word "common" violate the letter of the new law. Even unpaid though, a series of such letters using an official image and the imprimatur of state office would arguably violate its spirit. They would also contradict Mr. Wills' own expressed views on the strict avoidance of the use of public resources for political ends.

The intricacies of implementing this new legislation will fall to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board (i.e., where can or can't Governor Reynolds' official images continue to appear while she campaigns?). Nevertheless, Mr. Wills' previous condemnation of Iowa teachers for sending emails from publicly-funded school computers to communicate their views on pending legislation would recommend that he show similar sensitivity to not using public resources himself in the service of political goals. Mr. Wills' own common practice as a lawmaker is to use newsletters to provide timely notification about current legislative activity. Putting out repetitive notices otherwise gives every appearance of being instead about the first candidacy for the Iowa House in which he has faced a challenger.

Karen A. Larson

Spirit Lake