Iowa Republican Ashley Hinson came under scrutiny this summer in light of reporting that showed she had plagiarized portions of op-eds and policy proposals from news outlets and Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer’s campaign website. Rather than a one-off mistake, a review of legislation Hinson sponsored as a member of the Iowa House of Representatives reveals a pattern of copying language from outside sources to inform her own policies.
In at least three instances, bills introduced by Hinson mirrored language in model legislation pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). While lawmakers are encouraged by ALEC to utilize its model legislation, Hinson did not have permission from news sources or Finkenauer’s campaign to lift their language without attribution.
Last summer, the Des Moines Register detailed how Iowa legislators have copied whole sections of ALEC proposals “word-for-word” when introducing certain bills, such as limiting asbestos lawsuits and strengthening free speech protections at public universities. The Register’s article was part of a broader USA Today and Arizona Republic investigation that found 10,000 “copycat bills” introduced in Statehouses across the country.
In February 2019, Hinson was the sole sponsor of House File 471 to provide businesses liability protection in the event they are sued for hiring a person convicted of a crime. In 2011, ALEC introduced a template for this type of legislation to “immunize employers who hire ex-offenders without a violent or sex offense from being sued on that basis alone.”
The first section of HF 471 reads: “Limitation on liability for negligently hiring or failing to supervise an employee, agent, or independent contractor convicted of a public offense. A cause of action shall not be brought against a private employer, general contractor, or premises owner solely for negligently hiring or failing to adequately supervise an employee, agent, or independent contractor, based on evidence that the employee, agent, or independent contractor has been convicted of a public offense as defined in section 701.2 .”
The corresponding section in ALEC’s sample bill: “Limitations on Liability for Hiring Employee or Independent Contractor Convicted of a Nonviolent, Non-sexual Offense. A cause of action may not be brought against an employer, general contractor, premises owner, or other third party for hiring an employee or independent contractor who has been convicted of a nonviolent, non-sexual offense.”
House File 268 provides another example. Also introduced last February, the bill requires the Iowa Department of Management create and maintain a searchable database containing budget, audit and financial information about the state’s school districts. ALEC, a well-known proponent of private and charter schools, introduced this idea in 2009 with its Public School Financial Transparency Act.
Here is language from Hinson’s bill: “The general assembly finds that taxpayers should be able to easily access the details on how school districts are spending their tax dollars and other school revenues. Therefore, it is the intent of the general assembly to direct the department of management to create and maintain a searchable internet site in order to provide information on the budgets, audits and financial information of school districts. By January 1, 2021, the director shall develop and make publicly available a searchable internet site for searching, accessing and processing the items, data, and information required in this section, for the most recent school budget year … This search able internet site developed pursuant to this section shall allow the public at no cost to search and compile the information provided pursuant to this subsection.”
And ALEC’s sample bill: “The Legislature finds that: taxpayers should have easier access to details regarding how public schools are spending taxpayer dollars … Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature to direct all local education providers to create and maintain a searchable expenditure and revenue Web site database detailing financial activities … No later than one year from the enactment of this legislation, each local education provider shall develop, maintain and make publicly available a single, searchable expenditure and revenue Web site database that allows the public at no cost to review information concerning moneys collected and expended by the local education provider.”
In House Journal Resolution 11, a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget, the pattern holds true. In this example, the language in Hinson’s bill often is identical to ALEC’s model bill, Application for a Convention of the States Under Article V of the Constitution of the United States.
A sample of Hinson’s bill: “Whereas, the founders of the Constitution of the United States empowered state legislators to be guardians of liberty against future abuses of power by the federal government; and whereas the federal government has created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending; and … ”
And ALEC’s proposal: “Whereas, the Founders of our Constitution empowered State Legislators to be guardians of liberty against future abuses of power by the federal government; and whereas the federal government has created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending; and … ”
When the New York Times broke the story in July about plagiarism on Hinson’s campaign website, the Marion lawmaker said she “was unaware of the plagiarism when I reviewed drafts presented to me.”
Hinson said she was “deeply sorry” and cut ties with “the staff responsible.”
I was unaware of the plagiarism when I reviewed drafts presented to me by staff. As a journalist I take this extremely seriously and am deeply sorry for the mistake. The staff responsible will be held accountable. https://t.co/0MiXVUYEs4
— Ashley Hinson (@hinsonashley) July 20, 2020
But in an appearance the next day on KWWL-TV, Hinson concluded the interview by calling the plagiarism revelations “a partisan attack on me.”
Multiple ads from Hinson play up her time as a journalist in Eastern Iowa. A former news anchor, Hinson will speak proudly about her time in television when it suits her, but bash journalism when needed. In June 2017, during a rally for Donald Trump in Cedar Rapids, Hinson called herself a “recovering journalist,” but said in her campaign announcement last year she “loved reporting on our community.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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