IOWA CITY – Former Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett has had a reprimand he received from a state agency just before he lost a primary election last year overturned.
In a ruling issued April 1, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Farrell reversed the reprimand Slockett received last May from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Farrell wrote that Slockett may have violated some provisions of the law, but not the Iowa Code section the board oversees.
The board voted 5-0 to issue a letter of reprimand to Slockett for using his personal cell phone to campaign from his office. Slockett lost the Democrat primary election for auditor in June, and he left office at the end of last year after serving since 1977.
The reprimand came during a tumultuous spring for Slockett. In March, The Gazette reported that Slockett circulated his re-election petition at work and pressured his employees to sign it. Some prominent local Democrats soon came out in support of Slockett’s opponent in the primary, Travis Weipert, who is now serving as auditor.
In April, a former Johnson County deputy auditor filed a formal complaint against Slockett with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, accusing Slockett of using public resources in support of his re-election campaign.
Of the four allegations, the board only found that Slockett’s use of his cell phone to campaign from his office was a violation. It cited a section of law that says a “governing body” shall not use public money for political purposes.
Farrell, the administrative law judge, concluded that a county auditor was not a “governing body” under that section and therefore the board’s ruling must be reversed. He also said that Slockett did not use public money by using his office to make calls.
“The building itself was incidental to his actions, because he could have been anywhere when he made his campaign calls on his phone,” Farrell wrote.
However, Farrell said his finding does not condone Slockett’s actions, “which were clearly causing dissention within his office.”
“The undisputed facts in the reprimand give the impression of a long-time politician that was doing more to try to keep his job than do his job,” Farrell wrote.
Slockett could not immediately be reached on his cell phone Wednesday.
Megan Tooker, executive director and legal counsel of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, was out of the office Wednesday and did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which helped Slockett in his appeal, praised the decision in a news release.
The ruling “vindicates the First Amendment right of elected officials to engage in core political activity so long as they do not use public funds for that purpose,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Randall Wilson said in the release.