Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Wally Horn — the longest-serving member of the Legislature – doesn’t remember why the Iowa Senate prohibited senators from being paid staffers of campaigns and political action committees.
But the Cedar Rapids Democrat is clear on why the rule has to be maintained: To protect the franchise of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses.
“We’re first-in-the-nation so we don’t want anything to go wrong,” Horn said. “We need to protect Iowa to make sure we’re first-in-the-nation.”
Other states that closely follow Iowa in the presidential nomination process don’t seem to share Horn’s concern. New Hampshire, which hosts the first-in-the-nation primary election, South Carolina, host of the next primary, and Nevada, another caucus state, have no rules or laws that prevent elected officials from being paid by campaigns.
It’s become an issue in Iowa because of allegations that Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, was paid by Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign. He is the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and may face a felony misconduct charge if it is determined he lied about receiving money from the presidential campaign.
Although there is some debate whether the Iowa Senate’s rule prohibits a legislator from working for a candidate, the Senate Ethics Committee has interpreted to mean that a candidate can be paid only by his or her own campaign committee.
New Hampshire has a gift statute that Rich Lambert, executive administrator of the Legislative Ethics Committee, said doesn’t specifically address the issue of lawmakers being paid by campaigns.
His office issued an advisory opinion a couple of years ago that lawmakers working for campaigns could accept honorariums.
A New Hampshire gift law prohibits lawmakers from accepting gifts, Lambert said. However, there are 13 exceptions.
“So unless it falls into one of those exceptions, a lawmaker can’t accept more than $25,” he said. One exception applies to wages, salaries, expenses and mileage unrelated to the governmental position a person holds. Working for a candidate’s committee likely would be interpreted as “unrelated,” Lambert said.
South Caroline Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gosset chuckled when asked if lawmakers there were prohibited from being paid by campaigns.
“A lot of senators are actively involved in campaigns,” he said, “but I don’t know if they are actually employed by the campaigns.”
“I don’t think anyone would object if they were,” Gosset added.
South Carolina ethics rules cover the use of public resources, “but there’s nothing to prohibit them from taking an outside job,” Gosset said. He doesn’t think anything “expressly prohibits” them from using their title if working for a candidate.
The title is the same whether a lawmaker is being paid or volunteering on a campaign, said Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake.
The Iowa House does not prohibit members from being paid by presidential campaigns. However, few representatives take paid positions with presidential hopefuls competing in the Iowa caucuses.
Iowa lawmakers are not prohibited from having outside income, but must file financial disclosure statements and follow conflict of interest rules.
Legislative officials in the other early states point out Iowa lawmakers are better paid. New Hampshire lawmakers earn $100 a year. Nevada lawmakers earn $8,777 and the South Carolina legislative salary is $12,000. In Iowa, lawmakers are paid $25,000 a year.
Salaries, the Iowa House’s laxer rule and other states’ lack of prohibitions on lawmakers being paid by campaigns won’t change Horn’s belief in the value of the Senate rule.
“If you’re going to be the second, the third or not even in it, maybe it doesn’t matter,” he said about those states that follow Iowa in the nomination process. “We want to keep it above board.”