On Tuesday – one week from the Nov. 8 election – the progressive Iowa CCI Action Fund will hold a final forum for the candidates running for the Story County Board of Supervisors.
The board could be headed for a major shakeup as the result of a couple factors. One, Democratic Supervisor Paul Toot died unexpectedly in May, setting the course for a special election between the supervisor appointed to replace him, Republican Martin Chitty, the president of the Nevada Community School District, and Gilbert Democrat Linda Murken, a former correctional officer and outspoken foe of Dakota Access LLC’s Bakken crude oil pipeline. Two, third-time candidate Lauris Olson, a former journalist, chose to run as a Democrat instead of an independent, making her a viable candidate for the first time. Also running in the Democratic primary was Reno Berg, the former CEO of Ames disability services provider Mainstream Living. The incumbent, Democrat Wayne Clinton, announced his retirement earlier this year with the expectation that Berg would beat Olson, whose confrontations with the board have united its members against her. When he didn’t, Clinton reneged on his retirement announcement, entering the race for his own seat as an independent against Olson and Republican political novice Scott Schaben.
The final forum is scheduled for Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Ames Public Library’s Farwell T. Brown Auditorium. Discussion topics include the Bakken pipeline, water pollution, factory farms, a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15, and getting big money out of local elections. On that note, let’s take a look at the money that’s poured into these two races, taken from the latest campaign finance disclosures available from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
TOP OVERALL DONORS
As of the latest Oct. 19 filing deadline, the top contributor (not including in-kind contributions or loans) to the two races for county supervisor is the Story County Democratic Central Committee, which dropped $3,000 apiece into the coffers of Murken and Olson. The Story County Republican Central Committee has been more modest, giving $500 apiece to Chitty and Schaben.
The top individual donor is Shelley Vier, who co-owns the Nevada-based Mid-States Millwright & Builders Inc. with her husband Kevin and is the ministry coordinator for the Ames Cornerstone Church’s Escape22 worship program. She gave $1,500 to Chitty’s campaign.
Along with his wife Latoja, who is an assistant coach for the Iowa State University women’s basketball team, Scott Schaben gave $1,315 in direct contributions to his own campaign. Latoja Schaben played under Cyclones head coach Bill Fennelly when he coached the Toledo Rockets; Deb Fennelly, Bill’s wife, gave $1,100 to Schaben’s campaign. The couple’s daughter-in-law, former Cyclones basketball player Lyndsey Fennelly, gave Schaben another $100.
Jeff Becker, who gave $1,000 to Chitty, co-founded the Ames agricultural company Becker Underwood with Roger Underwood. The two men are currently advisers with the Rural American Fund, an agribusiness-focused private equity firm based in Chicago that also lists Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter as another of its partners. Connie Underwood, Roger’s philanthropist wife, also gave Chitty $1,000.
Recently retired Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes donated $1,000 to Clinton after the incumbent supervisor changed his mind about retiring. (Newly appointed County Attorney Jessica Reynolds gave Clinton another $500.)
Want to find out more? Explore all of the contributions data here.
WAYNE CLINTON’S SEAT
Clinton’s re-emergence in the race for his seat on the board has resulted in the splintering of party allegiances on both sides. Instead of endorsing his opponent, Berg is backing Clinton (see the second chart below), as are several members of the Toot family. But the Story County Democratic Party endorsed Olson around the time Clinton announced his campaign. Meanwhile, Republican Supervisor Rick Sanders and his wife Calli have not donated anything to Schaben but instead gave $600 to Clinton.
Other prominent Clinton backers include former Ames Mayor Ted Tedesco, a Republican; local realtor Dean Hunziker; ISU’s former senior vice president for business and finance, Warren Madden; former Youth and Shelter Services CEO George Belitsos; and Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg and his parents. Olson’s backers include state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, and his partner Leigh Tesfatsion; and former state Sen. Johnie Hammond, also an Ames Democrat.
Despite Clinton’s strong fundraising, a majority of donors to Berg’s campaign who later gave to Clinton or Olson stuck with the party and contributed money to Olson.
Despite investing serious personal funds in her campaign as she did last time, Olson has also raked in the most small donations.
Each of the candidates campaigning for Clinton’s seat loaned themselves cash. Berg is the only one to report paying his back. Olson’s husband, ISU physics professor Kerry Whisnant, loaned her $7,727, giving her a total haul of $16,279 (Olson also reported that she still owes her husband $11,109 he loaned her during her previous bid for supervisor as an independent candidate).
Olson has also outspent her opponents as of Oct. 19, although Schaben is a close second…
…but that appears to have cost him in the final stretch.
PAUL TOOT’S SEAT
The race between Chitty and Murken for the seat formerly occupied by Toot is more straightforward. Murken’s top individual donors were Ames resident Wilma Struss, who gave $300, and Nevada liberal Wendy Schneider, who added $250. Aside from the big-name donors to Chitty mentioned above, other prominent supporters include banking exec and former ISU wrestler Jim Gibbons, who gave $100 (and, in 2014, received negative press after an audit revealed he received $90,000 for unaccounted for work in then-Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s office); and Jim Kurtenbach, ISU President Steven Leath’s former pilot instructor who was later controversially hired as the university’s chief information office without a standard search process.
All told, Murken had roughly three times the number of small donations as Chitty.
Both raised in excess of $10,000, with Murken again gaining the edge.
But Murken’s also spent close to twice what Chitty has on the campaign.
Murken’s money advantage has still left her with some breathing room in the final stretch, although Chitty ended the cycle with the clear financial advantage.
Correction: This article originally said the progressive advocacy organization Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is hosting the forum. In fact, it will be hosted by ICCI sister organization Iowa CCI Action Fund.