The Ames Chamber of Commerce recently refused to comment on anti-diversity tweets that echo white nationalist rhetoric by Republican Congressman Steve King, a recent guest to the Chamber, and whether his comments run afoul of the organization’s recently adopted inclusivity statement that states the “Chamber believes in and stands for values of inclusion, equity and justice.” There’s at least one likely reason for why the Chamber is unwilling to address King’s bigoted views: Its members have donated more than $25,000 to his congressional campaign committee, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The donors include Matt Converse, a local business owner and 2017 member of the Chamber’s board of directors, who most recently gave King $1,000 on Aug. 14 — seven months after the Chamber adopted its inclusivity policy and five months after the congressman’s notorious “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” tweet that was praised by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Converse did not respond to a request for comment asking if he thought King’s recent Twitter activity conflicted with the Chamber’s inclusivity statement or if the organization ought to address it in light of his November visit to its Main Street office. Nor did Converse say whether he continues to support King after his most recent anti-diversity tweets, whose “Assimilation, not diversity, is our American strength” language mirrors the rhetoric of Duke and other white nationalists. However, on Twitter, Converse liked a Thanksgiving-day photo of King and his family posing in hunting gear. King tweeted the image the day after retweeting a white supremacist website founded by Jason Bergkamp, who’s shared tweets supporting Hitler and depicting Donald Trump as a Nazi gassing Hillary Clinton.
The vast majority of the Chamber-affiliated contributions came after King’s district was redistricted as a result of the 2010 census to include Ames. Here’s a closer look at Converse and other Chamber members who are among the donors.
Roger Underwood, $14,300
Agribusiness magnate Roger Underwood is an individual member of the Chamber and a former member of the board of directors for the Chamber-affiliated Ames Economic Development Commission. He graduated from Iowa State University and went on to co-found the seed company Becker Underwood, which was sold to the Germany-based BASF Corp. in 2012 for just over $1 billion. Like King, Underwood has been a vocal public critic of the NFL national anthem protests against racial injustice, suggesting they lack merit and disrespect the military. Underwood is now a private equity investor and member of the ISU Foundation’s board of directors. His wife Connie contributed another $7,400 to King for a total of $21,700 (they’ve given dating back to 2006 and most recently in November 2014). Her employer on FEC disclosure forms is listed as the Underwood Family Foundation, which gave $1 million to ISU’s college of agriculture and life sciences in August.
Brent Haverkamp, $3,600
Haverkamp is the owner of Ames property management business Haverkamp Properties Inc., which he founded in 1994. His company has been a chamber member since 2005. He gave King $1,000 in October 2012, the month before he defeated Democrat Christie Vilsack to represent Iowa’s new 4th Congressional District; and another $2,600 the following year, leading up to King’s defeat of Iraq war veteran Jim Mowrer.
Matt Converse, $3,000
A current Chamber board member and longtime member of the AEDC board of directors, Converse has served as president of local business Converse Conditioned Air Inc. since 2000. In 2015, he ran for City Council, losing to current council member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen (whose Ames council preview emails the Informer republishes). He’s also been on the editorial board of the Ames Tribune and is a member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. In addition to his August contribution, Converse gave King $1,000 in both October 2012 and June 2014.
Dean Hunziker, $2,500
Hunziker is another longtime AEDC board member. He owns Hunziker & Associates, a major real estate and development company in Ames that was founded by his father Erb in 1952. In September 2014, Hunziker joined then-ISU president Steven Leath and Pete Brownell, the CEO of Grinnell-based firearms supplier Brownells Inc. and current president of the National Rifle Association, on a hunting trip to Indiana to meet then-Gov. Mike Pence. Hunziker gave King $1,000 in July 2011 and $1,500 in September 2014.
Steve Stephan, $1,000
Scott Randall, $500
Randall founded the Ames residential and commercial land development company Randall Corp. in 1975. It’s been a Chamber member since 1992. An FEC disclosure form also describes Randall as the owner of Randall Construction Inc. He made his contribution to King in April 2012.
Kent Larsen, $400
Larsen serves as president of the construction contractor Con-Struct Inc., which joined the Chamber in 1986. His sole King contribution came in February 2012.
Kevin Kimle, $250
An individual member of the Chamber since 2016, Kimle is a senior lecturer in ISU’s economics department and the Rastetter Chair of Agriculture Entrepreneurship that was endowed by agribiz magnate Bruce Rastetter for the university’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative, which Kimle directs and was established in 2005 by Roger and Connie Underwood through a $1.6 million donation. In October, the program secured a $1.7 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation for Midwest markets research. Kimle gave King $250 in July 2011.
Teresa Garman, $100
Garman joined the Chamber as an individual member in 2015. From 1987 to 2003, she served as a Republican member of the Iowa House of Representatives when District 63 included Ames. Her King donation was made in August 2012.
Overall, Ames residents have given King’s campaign committee $51,410. Prominent donors beyond the Chamber include J.D. Schlieman, who founded Ames-based Hawkeye Energy Holdings with Bruce Rastetter in 2003 and has given King $2,500; Stephen VanHouten, a Mary Greeley Medical Center radiologist who’s given King $850; David Larson, a McFarland Clinic radiologist who’s given King $500; James Dickson, a professor in ISU’s animal sciences department who’s given King $275; and Ray Dearin, a former ISU political scientist who’s given King $200.