U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's campaign fundraiser gave Iowa State University a list of possible donors to his namesake research institute, records show, though university officials have promised the powerful Democrat would have no influence over the center.
The Harkin Institute of Public Policy would house the papers of the senator, who recently announced he would not seek a sixth term in 2014. The Iowa Board of Regents approved the institute in 2011 over objections of Republicans, who argued that naming it after a sitting lawmaker would raise ethical questions.
Harkin has at times tried to distance himself from the institute by noting the university operates it. But emails obtained by The Associated Press under the public records law show Jeremy Gold, his campaign's finance director, suggested revisions to a fundraising brochure at Harkin's request and gave ISU's charitable foundation a list of people and corporations who could be solicited.
Donations to the institute at Harkin's alma mater have recently slowed, and it has raised $3.3 million in pledges toward a planned $10 million endowment. Backers say it will conduct valuable research and preserve the papers of a lawmaker who helped ban discrimination against the disabled and shape farm policy.
In releasing the list of potential donors to the AP, Iowa State blacked out names of 12 people and 16 companies on it, saying the law allows it to shield their identities.
Gold sent the list to ISU Foundation Vice President Larissa Holtmyer Jones on Oct. 31, writing, "I understand that you will share with the appropriate individuals."
Harkin on Friday defended his actions in connection with the institute, saying he is working to make it successful for students and researchers.
"I've spoken positively to Iowans and others about the benefits I hope the Harkin Institute can bring to ISU. I've shown interest in its development. But others have done the direct fundraising," Harkin said. "Iowans know I would not connect any official action of mine to any contribution, and I'm confident my efforts to help ISU have been within established rules."
When the institute was created, the university's then-president, Greg Geoffroy, said Harkin "would really have no input" and that the institute "must be above that."
Gold declined comment, but Harkin spokeswoman Kate Cyrul Frischmann said Harkin's campaign doesn't raise money for the institute and that the list sent by Gold "is not a Harkin donor list." She said Harkin campaign staff played no role in its creation, saying it was assembled by someone she wouldn't identify who searched online for "active Iowa foundations and prominent individuals."
ISU Foundation spokeswoman Karen Simon said it has not solicited donations from anyone on the list. She said it was forwarded to Miles Lackey, ISU President Steven Leath's chief of staff, for his reference only.
Under congressional ethics rules governing honorary institutes, Harkin could raise funds for the institute, even from companies regulated by the powerful committee he chairs, as long as he doesn't solicit registered lobbyists or foreign agents.
The institute's largest donors are South Korean businessman Jin Roy Ryu and his Cedar Rapids-based company, PMX Industries, which would profit from Harkin's proposal to replace the $1 bill with a coin. Harkin said he did not ask for those donations or any others from lobbyists or "anyone seeking or receiving official action from me as a senator."
The institute's fundraising has slowed amid a dispute over the scope of research it will conduct. Harkin and his wife, Ruth, a regent, pressured Leath to rescind an order limiting its ability to research agriculture, which they see as central to Harkin's legacy.
Leath initially said the institute could research agricultural issues relating to Harkin's papers but all other research should be led by ISU's prominent Center for Agricultural and Rural Development to avoid duplication.
But the Harkins called it a restriction on academic freedom and warned he wouldn't donate his papers if it stood. Leath withdrew the rule last month, but directed the institute to coordinate research with other centers as necessary. It's still unclear whether the Harkins or the institute's advisory board will accept that change.
Amid the dispute, Gold sent the ISU Foundation revisions Oct. 1 to an informational brochure used for fundraising. The proposal included a section saying the institute would sponsor "dynamic nonpartisan research" in food safety, land conservation, renewable energy and other ag issues.
"Senator Harkin asked some trusted individuals familiar with his Congressional record and his historical papers and materials to suggest edits to the original Harkin Institute brochure," Gold wrote. "He asks that you consider these revisions for a new brochure."Jones responded that the foundation would make all changes but delay the section on agriculture until the dispute was resolved.