DES MOINES – A state regulatory board on Wednesday rejected a demand from the National Organization for Marriage that the panel’s executive director be removed from probing a complaint filed against NOM concerning the 2010 and 2012 campaigns to unseat Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices.
NOM attorneys requested that Megan Tooker not be involved in the investigation because she demonstrated “bias and animus” as well as having a potential conflict given that she previously served as a law clerk for one of the defeated Iowa Supreme Court justices that NOM opposed in Iowa’s 2010 retention vote.
However, Tooker denied NOM’s contentions, and members of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted 5-0 to have her direct the probe — saying she had done nothing inappropriate, calling NOM’s contentions “a red herring,” and declaring that the Washington-based group failed to make the case for her removal.
“This case is about the facts. It’s not about Megan Tooker,” said board chairman James Albert. “This is our investigation. The board will direct it, the board will supervise it.
“Our investigation will be thorough, fearless and we won’t be influenced by anything other than the facts and the law,” he added.
Earlier this month, the state board agreed to investigate allegations that NOM violated Iowa law by not disclosing donors who contributed to campaigns opposing the retention of Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in a controversial 2009 gay marriage decision.
If the charges brought by Fred Karger, a former political consultant and gay rights advocate who unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, are proven that NOM failed to follow state campaign laws, the organization could face civil disciplinary action that could include a public reprimand or fines of up to $2,000 per violation.
In his complaint, Karger contended NOM spent $635,000 in 2010 and nearly $100,000 in 2012 to try to defeat four of the justices who were part of a unanimous 2009 decision that paved the way for same-sex marriage to be legal in Iowa. Voters chose not to retain three justices in 2010, but Justice David Wiggins survived an effort to oust him in the 2012 election.
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing NOM during Wednesday’s hour-long teleconference, contended the organization could not receive a fair hearing if Tooker is allowed to direct the probe, likening the situation to an “Alice in Wonderland” scenario – “verdict first, trial later.”
“It appears to us that this investigation has been tainted,” Mitchell told the five board members who participated in Wednesday’s meeting.
“We do not believe that we will get a fair hearing in an investigation because we believe that our position has been prejudiced and compromised because of a personal bias and an animus that was exemplified by the comments made at the (Aug. hearing,” she added.
Albert said NOM could expedite the board’s investigation by providing all emails and communications regarding the judicial retention elections in Iowa – information that board officials said would be treated as public records. Mitchell asked the board to provide the request in writing so NOM could determine if it could comply given that “the Karger complaint is all over the board.”
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