The nonpartisan Coralville city election is again receiving attention from outside political interests.
Aaron Windeknecht, who is new media director at the conservative fundraising firm Campaign HQ out of Brooklyn, Iowa, posted an advertisement on Facebook Monday seeking a field director to “manage paid staff for Coralville City Council Race.”
Already, the Iowa chapter of a national political organization and a Des Moines-based political operative have been involved in this fall’s election in this town of 20,000 residents.
Campaign HQ raises money and does voter outreach for political campaigns. It’s president and founder, Nicole Schlinger, is “the most prolific fundraiser in Iowa Republican history,” bringing in more than $50 million for conservative candidates and causes, according to the company’s website.
Gov. Terry Branstad’s campaign committee and Vote Yes Linn County, which is advocating for a Cedar Rapids casino, have paid the firm for its services in the past couple of years, according to reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
It’s not clear exactly what Campaign HQ’s involvement is in Coralville. The Facebook ad did not specifically mention the firm. Reached at the Campaign HQ office Tuesday afternoon, Windeknecht said he was too busy to talk with a reporter. Schlinger did not immediately return phone messages.
Coralville City Council and mayoral candidates reached by The Gazette Tuesday denied having any involvement with Windeknecht or Campaign HQ.
The Gazette reported in September that critics of Coralville’s financial practices have helped some candidate’s campaigns, and in at least one case allegedly offered up to $20,000 worth of support.
One of the people involved in the effort came from Des Moines at the behest of GOP strategist Doug Gross, an attorney who represents General Growth Properties, the owner of Coral Ridge Mall.
Gross said Windeknecht’s ad and any possible involvement of Campaign HQ was news to him.
“I don’t know anything about this all,” he said.
Also involved in the Coralville campaign is Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit that has put millions of dollars toward conservative causes, including more than $33.5 million trying to defeat President Barack Obama’s re-election bid last year. AFP Iowa director Mark Lucas said he had not retained Windeknecht’s services.
This level of outside interest in a city election is unheard of in the area. Coralville, however, has been criticized by local developers and state lawmakers for its use of tax increment financing and its outstanding debt of almost $279 million.
Tom Gill, a Coralville City Council member running for re-election, said Coralville residents he has heard from do not like the outside involvement.
“I think it’s a little over the top,” he said. “All it’s going to do is – people do not like to be told what to do or how to vote.”
City Council challenger Dave Petsel is one of the candidates who is pushing for change in Coralville and could be seen as a beneficiary of the efforts of the outside groups, but he criticized their involvement.
“I don’t agree with the groups coming from the outside and trying to affect the race at all,” he said.
Candidates who spend or receive more than $750 must file campaign disclosure reports with the state five days before the Nov. 5 election.