Report: Unnamed Donors Funding Counties’ Defense in Water Works Lawsuit

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Water Works Park, located along the Raccoon River in Des Moines. Photo: Tyler S. Miller/Flickr

According to a report published tonight in the Des Moines Register, the majority of the money spent to defend Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac counties against the Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit, filed over elevated nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, has been paid for by donors who county lawyers have not identified.

The private donors have paid for $934,000 of the legal fees, which so far have totaled almost $1.1 million. Citing Calhoun County attorney David Wollenzien, the Register reports that the counties are asking the donors if they are willing to be identified. In the meantime, county attorneys are withholding the names, arguing their anonymity is protected under an Iowa law shielding private foundations’ support of governmental groups from disclosure.

The information comes in response to a records request filed by the Register, Storm Lake Times, Iowa Freedom of Information Council, and other newspapers.

The Register‘s report, written by Donnelle Eller, quotes Randy Evans, IFIC’s director and the paper’s former opinion editor, indicating that there may be a fight for disclosing the names should the counties not reveal them voluntarily:

Randy Evans, the council’s executive director, said state law requires the release of donors — whether they’re a defense fund, farm groups or large agriculture corporations. He pointed to a 2005 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that said donations to state university foundations must be made public, since the groups were “performing a government function.”

For a thorough backgrounder on the Water Works lawsuit, check out Iowa Public Radio reporter Clay Masters’ story published January in Politico.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.