Iowa campaign board receives multiple threats related to city, school elections

Screenshot of Nov. 16 Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board meeting.

By Ty Rushing

November 16, 2023

Staff members for the nonpartisan Iowa board that oversees the integrity of political campaigns received numerous threats related to the city and school elections that took place earlier this month. 

During Thursday’s Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board meeting, executive director and legal counsel Zach Goodrich noted the uptick in anger at him and staff coincided with the increased politicization of local elections.

“We have received letters, emails, phone calls, voicemails that seek to intimidate, harass and, in some instances, outright threaten us,” Goodrich told the board. “There are phone calls saying racist and antisemitic things and it’s extremely—not only disgusting—but unsettling and the staff have remained extremely professional despite what I would characterize as being pushed to the limit sometimes.”

In one example, Goodrich said a person from northeast Iowa called the office and told them they needed to do something to “stop these damn Jews from stealing this city council election.”

The most frequent threat delivery mechanism has been email since people don’t run the risk of talking to a real person, Goodrich said.

“Sometimes it’s the candidates themselves who are upset that we are attempting to enforce the laws and other times it is people who are very passionate about their own political persuasions and are taking it out on the other side and are mad that we aren’t doing something about that,” he said.

Goodrich said this comes with the role of “playing referee in the political arena,” but based on the insults the office has received, he thinks they are doing their job of equally enforcing the laws.

“We have been characterized from everything across the spectrum from liberal communist deep-state to conservative [Gov.] Kim Reynolds’ cronie,” Goodrich said. 

Board chair James Albert of Urbandale said he considers this a serious issue. He noted that during a closed session, they planned to discuss a serious threat made by a candidate from this year’s cycle.

“I don’t take this lightly and I don’t think it goes with the territory [for] either citizens serving on a board like this or for those of you who worked for this agency in the state having to accept willing threats and intimidation,” Albert said.


School board races

This year’s school board races in Iowa picked up where the 2021 races left off in terms of visibility and partisanship, except this year left-leaning candidates saw success whereas in 2021 right-leaning candidates fared better.

The increased partisanship of the races was noted in Goodrich’s report. He said in 2015, there were 24 registered school board political action committees (PACs). That increased to 97 in 2021 and this year it was 290.

“In less than 10 years, we’ve seen a tenfold increase and it represents the increased politicization of the school board and city races,” Goodrich said. “Our office continues—even after the election—to get calls questioning how can political parties get involved [since] these are by law nonpartisan races.”

Goodrich also said most people who were running for office or those who created a PAC to support a candidate or a cause cooperated with the office once they were contacted to ensure they were compliant with state law.

However, there were also groups and candidates who tried to circumvent state law.  

“One of the popular things we’ve seen with school board races is candidates running as a slate,” Goodrich said. “We’ve been seeing them sharing expenses for campaign materials, going out and some candidates just paying for other candidates’ materials and essentially running afoul of the idea that your campaign committee is going to be separate from all others.”

Goodrich also said they saw a lot of little “weird things” with campaigns. In one instance, a small-business owner running for school board added a coupon for his business to a campaign flyer.

“It’s intertwining his campaign with money being spent for his business,” Goodrich said.

He also noted that PACs tried to avoid the $1,000 spending limit by paying for the design of campaign signs and providing a template of the design to candidates who then paid for the materials.

The last issue Goodrich mentioned was the gray area created by endorsements, which he suggested the board tackle at a later date. While he did not mention Moms for Liberty by name, Goodrich said a “Florida advocacy group” that started an Iowa-specific page to endorse school board candidates prompted people to contact the office.

“There’s a question of whether or not that qualifies as expressed advocacy and whether or not that would avail those entities to have to register with our office,” he said. “So the quick summary is that there’s a lot more politics, a lot more campaign activity—even at the local level—and people are getting very creative and, unfortunately, not always contacting our office to ensure they are compliant.”  


  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.


Local News

Related Stories
Share This