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“An outright lie.” Republicans deny outside group crafted election law

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Jessica Anderson edited
Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson speaking to donors on April 22, courtesy of Documented.

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - As a formal investigation gets underway into potential meddling by a conservative advocacy group, Republican lawmakers are steadfast they did nothing wrong.

Right as the 2021 legislative session was winding down, watchdog group Documented published video of a donor banquet for Heritage Action for America. Heritage is a right-wing advocacy group that fights for conservative laws.

In the video --which was authenticated by the Associated Press-- Executive Director Jessica Anderson lists Iowa as one of eight states where they worked on voting reform laws.

The law she was referencing was SF 413, which Governor Reynolds signed on March 8. The bill shortened Iowa's early voting period, made the polls close an hour earlier, and prohibits county auditors from sending absentee ballot request forms to people unless they ask for them.

"We worked quietly with the Iowa state legislature. We got the best practices to them, we helped draft the bill, we made sure activists were calling the state legislators," Anderson said.

In Iowa, all lobbyists need to be registered with the state. There is no one from Heritage registered in Iowa.

The video prompted the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to start requesting documents from Reynolds and Heritage. It also prompted then Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Prichard to file an ethics complaint with the House Ethics Committee on May 18. Prichard has since stepped down as minority leader.

Heritage responded to the ethics board on May 18, saying they didn't actually have direct contact with Iowa lawmakers; rather, they mobilized a group of supporters.

"Heritage Action staff have had no communication with any members of the Iowa legislature," the group said. "In early 2021, thousands of our grassroots supporters across Iowa received materials from Heritage Action educating them about the proposed law."

Iowa Republicans are pointing out the difference between this messaging, and when Anderson said, "we helped draft the bill" on April 22.

"There was absolutely no communication between myself and Heritage Action," Rep. Bobby Kaufmann said, R-Wilton. Kaufmann managed the election bill in the house.

"This was an outright lie to impress donors," Kaufmann said.

Democrats aren't taking Republicans word for it and would like to see full and complete investigations.

"Iowans deserve to know who's writing their laws. And if this outside, dark-money, conservative group is writing their laws, Iowans deserve to know the truth," Sen. Zach Wahls said, D-Coralville.

The Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board started a formal investigation on May 26. The board only has the authority to investigate the governor's actions. They say they have no evidence of foul play at this time but wanted the full power of an investigation.

A spokesperson for Governor Reynolds confirmed they had one phone call with Heritage Action on March 4. That phone call was after the bill had arrived at Reynolds' desk.

The governor's office says the only thing discussed on that phone call was whether or not Reynolds would provide a quote for an article Heritage was publishing. The governor reportedly denied.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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