Lawyers’ money, Reynolds’ top factor in ousting Republicans

Dustin Hit

DES MOINES — Three political advocacy organizations spent a combined total of more than $636,000 on Republican primary campaigns in last week’s election in Iowa, according to state campaign finance records.

And these groups — Americans for Prosperity, the American Federation for Children and The Family Leader — got their money’s worth: Candidates backed by the groups won 14 of the 17 primary campaigns the groups invested in, and a 15th candidate. leads in a campaign that was decided by just two votes after the preliminary count.

This batch of winning Republican primary candidates who were backed by band money includes non-incumbent challengers who ousted three incumbent Iowa House Republicans: Representatives Dustin Hite of New Sharon, Jon Thorup of Knoxville and Dennis Bush from Cherokee.

Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon

Representative Jon Thorup, R-Knoxville

Rep. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee.

That spending was on digital campaign ads, mail-out campaign ads and door-to-door efforts, according to state campaign finance records.

Several key issues were at stake in those races, according to campaign materials produced by advocacy groups: taxpayer funding of private school tuition, banning transgender girls from women’s athletics, and limits on requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines.

The one consistent factor across all campaigns was the money spent by these three groups. They were the dominant players in the legislative races in the primary elections, far outpacing all other groups.

In total, Americans for Prosperity spent nearly $300,000 on the Republican legislative primaries, the American Federation for Children spent nearly $257,000, and The Family Leader spent more than $80,000, according to the records of the State.

“Obviously we love that we won the races we were in,” said Drew Klein, state director of Americans for Prosperity. “What we’ve taken away is that when we show up and have the conversation with constituents on the issues that matter to us, we see positive efforts.”

Two Republican primary campaigns have drawn six-figure spending from advocacy groups. In both cases, a non-incumbent challenger defeated an incumbent Iowa House member.

Most of the spending was done in District 5 of House. The new Northwest Iowa District includes all of Osceola and O’Brien counties, as well as parts of Cherokee and Buena Vista counties.

The campaign featured incumbent Bush, of Cherokee, and challenger Zach Dieken of Granville.

About $113,800 was spent in the race to support Dieken, the vast majority of it by the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative free-market advocacy group with its roots in the network of organizations founded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

The group endorsed Dieken at the start of the legislative session in mid-January. In a press release, the group said Dieken “is a supporter of parental choice in education.”

Bush was among about two dozen House Republicans who said they did not support Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal for a program that would shift taxpayer funding for public schools to help with school tuition. private for a maximum of 10,000 students.

In his quest to garner support for his proposal, Reynolds took the exceptionally rare step of endorsing several challengers to incumbent House Republicans in the primary, including Dieken.

Dieken won the primary elections comfortably, with 55.8% of the vote against 24.2% for Bush.

The so-called Governor’s School Choice bill was also central to the Republican primary with the second-highest spending.

The campaign in House 88 District, which includes all of Keokuk County and parts of Mahaska and Jefferson Counties, featured incumbent Hite, of New Sharon, who chaired the education committee of the Chamber over the past two years. He was challenged by Helena Hayes, also from New Sharon.

The American Federation for Children and The Family Leader donated $101,300 to the campaign, either supporting Hayes or opposing Hite.

Campaign materials from The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization in Iowa, promised that Hayes “unlike his opponent” would work to remove “pornographic materials” from schools.

Statehouse Republicans in this year’s legislative session discussed ways to address concerns raised by some conservative parents about the school curriculum and school library books they deemed obscene. Many books that angered parents included brief isolated passages describing sexual acts or masturbation, but were not the main content of the books. Some Republicans in the Senate have proposed creating a way for parents to sue and jail educators for these materials.

In the end, no such legislation was approved during the session.

Another campaign article in the District 88 campaign criticized Hite for its failure to support Reynolds’ school choice bill and its failure to support a so-called toilet bill, which is legislation prohibiting transgender people from using toilets designated for the gender with which they identify.

And yet another campaign letter criticizes Hite for not backing a bill that would have banned all employers from requiring a vaccine. This bill did not return from committee in the Iowa House or the Senate during the last session.

The head of the family spent more than $37,000 on the race. The American Federation for Children spent over $64,000.

The American Federation for Children is a national school choice advocacy organization with roots in the DeVos family, which includes Betsy DeVos, the former U.S. Secretary of Education under former President Donald Trump.

With that six-figure financial backing, Hayes ousted Hite, 57.4% to 42.5%.

Reynolds also endorsed Hayes late in the campaign.

Hayes is among six Republican candidates The Family Leader has endorsed and supported; all six won.

“We chose to support six key competitions where the choice was clear and where we could confidently support pro-family, pro-life and pro-parenting choice in education,” said Drew Zahn, director of communications for The Family Leader. “Additionally, Iowa voters have sent a clear message that they support the candidates with a strong, pro-family platform.”

Another very expensive campaign featured two incumbents who were brought together by a 10-year redistricting. Representatives Lee Hein, of Monticello, and Steven Bradley, of Cascade, faced off in the new House District 66, which includes all of Jones and most of Jackson County.

Americans for Prosperity and The Family Leader spent $95,000 on the District 66 campaign, both in support of Bradley. Americans for Prosperity did the heavy lifting, spending $73,000 on the campaign.

Abortion was a crucial issue in this campaign; In the past, Hein has voted against legislation that would have banned abortions after a fetus’ heartbeat was detected. He cited an experience his daughter had during her pregnancy that would have been impacted by such a law.

With the help of these groups, Bradley beat Hein, 55.4% to 44.6%.

“I think it just proves that the model we’re pursuing works: showing up and talking directly to the citizens of Iowa will always yield better results than just investing heavily in mainstream media,” Klein said. “Going big on TV or radio or whatever just doesn’t compare to the real conversations we have with Iowans.”

Only two Republican House primary candidates have fended off an externally funded opponent.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, of Northwood, won re-election in the new House District 60 despite the American Federation for Children spending nearly $50,000 to oppose her and support her challenger, Deb Hild, of Clear Lake.

Bloomingdale’s is also among the House Republicans who did not support Reynolds’ school choice plan.

There was no starter in the new House District 25, where Hans Wilz, of Ottumwa, beat Corwin Williams, also of Ottumwa, despite the American Federation for Children spending nearly $9,000 to support Williams.

In all other races where the three groups spent money, the candidate they supported won.

That could change depending on the end result in Senate District 42, where Vinton’s Colman Silbernagel – who the American Federation for Children spent more than $25,000 on – won an open-seat campaign by just two votes on Charlie McClintock of Alburnett, according to the preliminary count.

An official canvassing of the results will be completed in the coming weeks. And anyway, this result seems destined for a recount, given the narrow result.

Another $46,000 was spent by Americans for Prosperity and the American Federation for Children in the 37th district of the house, where challenger Barb Kniff McCulla, of Pella, also backed by Reynolds, ousted Thorup, of Knoxville, of 70 .2% to 29.7%.

The family leader and the American Federation for Children have spent more than $36,000 on the House District 53 campaign between two incumbents, helping Rep. Dean Fisher, of Montour, another Reynolds endorser, defeat Rep. David Maxwell, from Gibson.

And in House District 4, Americans for Prosperity, with just a little help from The Family Leader, helped outgoing Rep. Skyler Wheeler, of Orange City, survive a challenge from Kendal Zylstra, of Larchwood.

Some state-based Political Action Committees, or PACs, and a big-dollar donor tried unsuccessfully to come to the aid of these endangered Republican incumbents at the end of the campaign.

Between May 15 and June 3:

• Associated General Contractors of Iowa PAC donated $3,000 each to Hite and Bush.

• The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation PAC donated $3,000 to Hite and $1,000 each to Thorup and Bush.

• The Iowa Law PAC donated $2,000 each to Hite and Thorup.

• And individual donor Nick Rowley donated $5,000 each to Hite and Thorup. Rowley is an attorney who grew up in Iowa, still has a home here, and has developed a national profile.

These donations turned out to be too little or too late.

Many Republican primary winners will face Democratic opponents in Iowa’s general election on Nov. 8.

Comments: (515) 355-1300, [email protected]

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