olitical campaigns in Iowa — and in the country — are too long, too expensive, and too unpleasant. This session, I am once again introducing legislation designed to shorten the length of campaigns and reduce their cost, significantly limit the power of special interests, decrease excessive partisanship, and improve the civility of Iowa campaigns.
On Jan. 30, I introduced HF 165, an act limiting campaign contributions to candidates running for state office. It would limit individual, corporate, union, and PAC (political action committees) contributions to $1,000 per candidate. State parties could contribute no more than $75,000 for gubernatorial candidates, $25,000 for statewide elected offices other than the governor, $10,000 for candidates for the state senate, and $5,000 for candidates for state representative.
Believe it or not, Iowa is one of only a handful of states that have no limits on the size of political contributions. The power of big money has a corrupting influence on the legislative process and needs to be reined in. In 2018, some Iowa legislative races saw spending exceeding $1 million dollars for a job that pays $25,000 a year! In addition, the candidate who spent the most money won about 90 percent of the contested races.
The money is bad enough, but the influence it can buy is a disturbing feature of modern American politics. Limiting political contributions, especially those from unions, corporations, political parties and political action committees would help remedy this situation. In 2018, in excess of $10 million was spent on legislative races alone. Right here in Jackson, Jones, and Dubuque counties, close to $1.5 million was spent on the state senate race between Tod Bowman and Carrie Koelker. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that money had been spent to support local projects and charities instead of on TV ads and mailings that usually end up in the trash can?
If enacted into law, the net effect of this legislation would be to reduce the costs of campaigns and encourage legislative candidates to raise more of their own money locally. I would like to think that this would help make them more responsive to the people they represent rather than the big contributors and special interests.
I have once again introduced legislation to move the primary from June to September and to make races for county offices non-partisan. I think most Iowans would appreciate a shorter campaign season and are more interested in the quality of the person they elect to county office rather than whether they happen to be a Democrat or a Republican.
I am also resurrecting a bill to encourage clean campaigns that I was able to push through the Senate in 2001, but which unfortunately did not receive House consideration. More about that in a future newsletter.
Campaigns in Iowa and around the country have gotten out of control and reforms are long overdue. The people are way ahead of the politicians on this one. I have already received 385 responses to the opinion poll I sent out last week. Of the 16 questions asked, the one receiving the strongest support — 90 percent — was the one about limiting the cost of political campaigns.
These bills will be considered by the State Government Committee where their fate is uncertain. However, at the very least they will encourage a much-needed conversation about campaign reform.
— Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, represents Iowa House District 58. He can be reached at 515-281-3221, firstname.lastname@example.org.