GOP Super-PAC Targets Iowa City over Sanctuary City Talks

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Phones have been “ringing off the hook” at City Hall in Iowa City this week, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported last night, because of the council’s plans to hold a work session next Tuesday to discuss sanctuary cities — cities that won’t prosecute undocumented immigrants solely because of their status of being in violation of federal immigration laws.

The reason for the influx of calls, apparently, is because of robocalls from the super-PAC Priorities for Iowa targeting Iowa City residents encouraging them to show up at the meeting to voice their concerns, although no public hearing is scheduled for it.

Priorities for Iowa is a conservative super-PAC headed by Jimmy Centers, a former spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad. Speaking to the Gazette, Centers said that his organization had no stance yet on the council’s sanctuary city talks but that it was “reserving judgment” until a “more formal proposal” is made.

On its website, the super-PAC cites an article from the Iowa City Press-Citizen in which Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton pointed to Donald Trump’s election as the reason for the discussion.

“This was brought up after all the intimidating statements the winning candidate made during the campaign,” Throgmorton told the paper. “We firmly reject efforts to villainize, terrorize and intimidate our friends and neighbors on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or country of origin.”

Priorities for Iowa was founded during the 2014 election cycle, when it spent $1.2 million against then-US Rep. Bruce Braley in his failed campaign to succeed Sen. Tom Harkin, whose seat was won by Braley’s Republican opponent and Trump backer Joni Ernst. During the 2016 election, the super-PAC spent about $107,000 against Democrat Patty Judge in her unsuccessful bid to take down longtime Sen. Chuck Grassley.

The super-PAC’s biggest backers include several GOP megadonors, many of whom were critical of Trump during the presidential campaign, among them hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, who criticized Trump over his harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric but has since made amends, pledging to donate to his inauguration. Singer has given the super-PAC $250,000. Another hedge fund billionaire, Julian Robertson, who supported Libertarian Gary Johnson instead of Trump, has given the super-PAC $200,000. Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who opted to spend on GOP Senate candidates over Trump, has given $200,000. California investor William Oberndorf, who urged Republicans to cut ties with Trump, donated another $100,000.

Priorities for Iowa’s donors have also included some major Trump backers, including Kentucky coal magnate Joe Craft, who’s funding Trump’s transition and gave the super-PAC $250,000; World Wrestling Entertainment magnate Linda McMahon, who’s dropped $100,000 into the super-PAC’s coffers and was recently appointed to be Trump’s Small Business Administration director; and hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, the pro-Trump Breitbart financier who’s given $50,000.

According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement data compiled by the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, there are 23 sanctuary counties in Iowa: Allamakee, Benton, Cass, Clinton, Delaware, Dubuque, Franklin, Fremont, Greene, Ida, Iowa, Jefferson, Johnson (where Iowa City is located), Linn, Marion, Monona, Montgomery, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sioux, Story, Wapello, and Winneshiek.

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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.