By Glenda McDowell Seward
The trial is over. While common sense prevailed, and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, we saw a side of the political process that we rarely brush up against at the local level when two Washington County residents, Jack Seward Jr. and Bob Yoder, faced charges of political campaign ethics violations and went to trial Sept. 24-27. As the wife of one of these candidates, the past two months have been both eye opening and thought provoking.
Megan Tooker, of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, indicated in her trial testimony that reporting errors such as those being prosecuted in the Seward and Yoder cases are common across the state. She was also very clear that an error is not a crime.
The Ethics Board has effective procedures for working with errors in candidate reports. The practice is to contact candidates with reporting errors and work with them individually to make corrections. If candidates receive dollars from sources they are not allowed to accept money from, they return it. If they transfer money to an entity that is not allowed to receive it, they correct the problem. If something is reported in the wrong column or on the wrong schedule, they fix it.
These errors become crimes only when they are knowingly and intentionally committed or when a candidate flagrantly refuses to make the necessary corrections.
If every county took the action that Washington County did in these cases, a truly exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars, county government worker hours and juror time would be tied up in these innocuous cases and away from other far more serious matters. Yes, it is important to ensure that local, as well as state and national political campaigns, remain as ethical and honest as possible, but we have a state-appointed board that has been funded and tasked with that work.
Hopefully, those making these decisions have learned from this experience that our local resources and tax dollars are far better invested by allowing the Ethics Board to do its job, with the county taking decisive action only upon this board’s recommendation after thoroughly investigating the situation.
Tooker also indicated that her greater concern in all of this is that other good people may hesitate to enter the political arena and run for an office in public service. It would indeed be very reasonable for potential candidates to hesitate for fear of encountering the legal antics that were at play in these cases.
As Election Day draws closer, I encourage everyone to search out the beliefs and values of candidates in every race. Many local elected positions, such as hospital and county conservation board members and our Board of Supervisors, are seen by some as non-partisan races, and to some extent this is true. It is also true, however, that party affiliation serves as a reflection of values.
Candidates typically align themselves with the party that most closely reflects their beliefs and values. Personal integrity and ethical behavior are also valuable clues into a candidate’s suitability for an elected public office.
Character is revealed in our response when placed in the fire, and the upside of the Seward and Yoder trials was the character, ethics, and honesty of these two candidates came shining through. While we may always be left to wonder at the identities of Moe and Curly, who convinced Larry that the criminal prosecution of these men was a good idea, the trial revealed these men for the honest, ethical, and sincere men that they are. They are men with honorable intentions, who seek to serve resident in the role of Washington County supervisors.
Glenda McDowell Seward, a longtime teacher and Family Economics and Financial Education national Master Educator, is the wife of Washington County District 1 supervisor candidate Jack Seward Jr. of West Chester. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org