HomeTop StoriesIowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board opens investigation into Melissa Vine campaign

Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board opens investigation into Melissa Vine campaign

“I Voted” stickers are spread across a table at a polling place in Des Moines on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board decided Thursday to open an investigation into Melissa Vine’s campaign in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

Vine, who carries the district as a Democrat, was the subject of a complaint earlier in May from the Iowa Unity Coalition, a progressive PAC.

The coalition held a vote on April 30 on who would support the June 7 Democratic primary between Vine and Lanon Baccam, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official and Biden campaign staffer. Registered members had to pay $20 to the group to participate in the online voting.

Chairman Mitch Henry said in an interview that the PAC saw a sudden increase in membership the day of and the day before the vote. During the 24-hour online voting process, large numbers of votes were cast in one hour. An audit by the Iowa Unity Coalition found that 41 ballots were submitted by non-members, and 43 others were submitted by people who signed up for the group shortly before the vote and had the same address and credit card information, as well as email addresses linked to Vine’s campaign.

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Henry said 125 new members were registered through ActBlue, mostly from April 30 to May 1, when the endorsement voting period began, with 76 registrations flagged as fraudulent.

At an emergency board meeting on May 1, the organization disqualified 84 votes from the final approval count and the Iowa Unity Coalition officially endorsed Baccam on May 7.

Henry said the Iowa Unity Coalition contacted four individuals he knew were part of the registration, who said they had not registered to become a new member, had not paid for membership and had not the coalition’s website had voted during the approval process.

For many of the other people involved in the registration wave, he said, it was unclear how many were real people.

“I’ve been involved in Democratic progressive politics for over 35 years, since the late ’80s, and I don’t recognize 90% of these people,” Henry said. “I did most of my politics in Des Moines, Polk County and all these people, supposedly, from the Des Moines, Polk County area. But again, we don’t know for sure because we don’t have a real address, we don’t have a real email address. We don’t even have their phone numbers.”

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The investigation will examine whether Vine’s campaign violates state laws that prohibit anyone from making contributions or expenditures on behalf of another person. Such an action could potentially violate state and federal law by using federal campaign funds to make contributions to a state PAC on behalf of individuals.

The actions appear to be linked to Lou McDonald, Vine’s former campaign manager who was fired earlier this week for his actions in connection with the alleged illegal contributions. In a statement to the Des Moines Register, a spokesperson for the Vine campaign said that “an employee took actions that do not reflect our values ​​and is no longer part of our campaign.”

The Vine campaign had previously called the action an “administrative error,” but Henry said McDonald alleged in a voicemail that the Iowa Unity Coalition had received illegal contributions. Henry rejected this accusation, pointing to recent audits of the organization that found no illegal contributions.

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Zach Goodrich, executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, said he plans to “expedite” the investigation as much as possible with the goal of completing it before the June primary. He also stated that the complaint falls under the jurisdiction of the board and that a violation of the state law on contributions could amount to a serious criminal offense.

“It’s that simple: If you’re the one paying for it, you better use your name,” Goodrich said.

The post Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board Opens Investigation into Melissa Vine Campaign appeared first on Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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