Barbara Rodriguez, Des Moines Register Published 5:35 p.m. CT Nov. 8, 2019 | Updated 6:02 p.m. CT Nov. 8, 2019
Democrat Tom Steyer, a businessman and political donor running for president, said in his speech Aug. 11, 2019, at the Register Political Soapbox that President Donald Trump’s “failed trade war” is the “worst thing to happen to farmers in the last 10 years.” Des Moines Register
An aide to Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has resigned after a news report that he privately offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing the businessman’s White House bid.
Pat Murphy, a former state House speaker who was serving as Iowa political director on Steyer’s campaign, resigned Friday, according to Heather Hargreaves, Steyer’s campaign manager.
“After the conclusion of an investigation alleging improper communications with elected officials in Iowa, Pat Murphy has offered his resignation from the campaign effective immediately,” she said in an emailed statement. “Our campaign policy is clear that we will not engage in this kind of activity, or any kind of communication that could be perceived as improper. Violation of this policy is not tolerated.”
The Associated Press, which first published about Murphy, reported that most politicians who made a claim about Murphy requested anonymity to speak freely about the issue.
Tom Courtney, a former Democratic state senator from Burlington who’s running for reelection to his old seat, told the AP that a Steyer aide made him an offer but he declined to name Murphy.
“Tom, I know you’re running for Senate. I’m working for Tom Steyer,” Courtney recalled about the aide. “Now you know how this works. … He said, ‘You help them, and they’ll help you.'”
One current lawmaker, Rep. Karin Derry of Johnston, said Murphy didn’t explicitly offer a specific dollar amount, but made it clear she would receive financial support.
“It was presented more as, he has provided financial support to other down-ballot candidates who’ve endorsed him, and could do the same for you,” she told the AP.
There’s no evidence that any of the politicians allegedly approached by Murphy accepted the offer or received contributions from Steyer’s campaign, according to the AP.
A campaign spokesman for Steyer told the AP that the ex-speaker had not been authorized to offer money and that campaign leadership outside of the Iowa operations had been unaware of his actions.
Murphy later issued a statement through the campaign that said he understands “how tricky the endorsement process can be for folks in Iowa.”
“It was never my intention to make my former colleagues uncomfortable, and I apologize for any miscommunication on my part,” he said in the statement.
Payments for endorsements, if not disclosed by a campaign, would violate federal campaign finance laws. Separately, Iowa law prohibits state and local candidate committees from accepting contributions from federal candidate committees.
Steyer has received the endorsement of just one Iowan since entering the race in July — former state Rep. Roger Thomas of Elkader.
In a statement provided by Steyer’s campaign, Thomas said that he endorsed Steyer “because he’s the outsider who can deliver for Iowans on the issues that matter most: getting corporate corruption out of our politics and putting forth a rural agenda that revitalizes communities across Iowa.”
Thomas’ endorsement was issued in October after the close of the most recent campaign finance reporting period, which ended Sept. 30. The campaign finance disclosure Steyer filed offered no indication that he directly gave Thomas any money.
Hargreaves with the Steyer campaign said Steyer’s endorsements come from “his consistent efforts engaging communities, meeting them where they are, and earning their trust and respect with his unifying messages.”
“The campaign will continue to seek them in Iowa and other parts of the country,” she said.
Steyer, a billionaire activist who has mostly self-funded his quest for the Democratic nomination for president, has faced criticism that he’s trying to buy his way into the White House. He spent $47.6 million of his own money in the first three months since launching his bid. At the time of his announcement, he said he planned to spend “at least $100 million” on the race.
Steyer appeared on the stage of the Democratic primary debate in October and he has qualified for the debate scheduled later this month.
Barbara Rodriguez covers health care and politics for the Register. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8011. Follow her on Twitter @bcrodriguez.
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