An AP report this week shows Senator Joni Ernst’s campaign group broke the law in its close overlap with a shady dark money group set up by her top political staff to support her re-election campaign in 2020.
Here are five key facts in the AP’s storysd: ‘Dark money’ ties raise questions for GOP Sen. Ernst of Iowa
- Illegal for Candidates to Coordinate with Dark Money Groups. Ernst Did It Anyway.
It’s illegal for dark money groups to work with the candidates they support or make political work their primary purpose — but “documents reviewed by the AP, including emails and a strategy memo, not only make clear that the group’s aim is securing an Ernst win in 2020… they also show Ernst and her campaign worked in close concert with Iowa Values.”
- Documents “Offer Proof” Campaign Finance Laws Broken.
Legal experts told AP the documents “offer proof that the effort violates the spirit of campaign finance and tax law.” A nonpartisan campaign finance expert said there is “pretty strong evidence” that a $50,000 request for money was for an “illegal donation” and it’s “clear that the goal of Iowa Values is to reelect Joni Ernst, which may violate its tax-exempt status.”
- Dark Money Group Was Founded by Ernst’s “Top Political Aides.”
The dark money group Iowa Values was “founded by top political aides to Sen. Joni Ernst [and] has worked closely with the Iowa Republican to raise money and boost her reelection prospects, a degree of overlap that potentially violates the law.”
- Ties Between Campaign, Dark Money Group “Undeniable.”
The close connection between Ernst and the dark money group is “undeniable”: Iowa Values was co-founded in 2017 by Ernst’s longtime political consultant and former campaign manager and deputy chief of staff, Jon Kohan. Ernst’s top fundraiser, Claire Holloway Avella, is “deeply involved with both operations.” A condo owned by another former campaign manager — Derek Flowers, who was recently hired to lead the group — was used as Iowa Values’ address at a time when he worked for Ernst.
- Ernst Couldn’t Defend Her Campaign, Faces Mounting Questions.
The Ernst campaign was unable to substantively refute anything about the AP’s troubling report, so instead a spokesperson attacked the story as “the definition of fake news.” There has been no response from Ernst herself.
DSCC spokesperson Stewart Boss released the following statement:
“This deeply troubling report details Senator Ernst and her staff secretively breaking the rules for personal gain, and those involved should be held fully accountable for this illegal conduct. Senator Ernst ran on a promise to shake up Washington and take on the special interests, but the truth is she’s been caught trying to exploit our broken campaign finance system to benefit her political career because she’s part of the problem.”
This report comes at an increasingly dire moment in Senator Ernst’s campaign — she was outraised in the third quarter by Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield, saw her approval rating plummet by the most of any Senate incumbent last quarter, and nonpartisan political analysts have shifted the Iowa Senate race in Democrats’ direction.
Be sure to follow Democrat Theresa Greenfield, running against Joni Ernst: