November 23, 2014

Ethics Board dismisses call to remove executive director from NOM investigation (AUDIO)

The Iowa Ethics Board has unanimously rejected the idea of taking its executive director off the investigation of whether a national group that opposes same-sex marriage has violated Iowa campaign laws.

Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for the National Organization for Marriage, this afternoon argued Iowa Ethics Board executive director Megan Tooker can’t be impartial because she was a law clerk for one of the Iowa Supreme Court justices the group helped vote off the bench in 2010.

“Your legal counsel…to whom we have to submit things, and then that’s interpreted to your board — it’s like submitting it to someone who has already decided that we’re guilty,” Mitchell said.

The National Organization for Marriage points to statements Tooker made when the board met earlier this month and decided to launch an investigation, when Tooker said a memo from one of the group’s lawyers had “absolutely” misinterpreted Iowa law.

“I’m not sure at this point…what an investigation is even supposed to do since, apparently, this is sort of like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ — verdict first, trial later,” Mitchell said.

The board held a meeting by telephone late this afternoon and voted unanimously to dismiss the group’s demand that Tooker be taken off the case. 

“I did not hear our counsel say anything that I thought was out of line,” said John Walsh of Dubuque, vice chair of the Iowa Ethics Board.

James Albert, a Drake University law professor who is chairman of the Ethics Board, said it will be the six-member board — not Tooker — who will direct and supervise the investigation and determine whether state laws have been violated.

“Our investigation will be thorough and fearless and we won’t be influenced by anything other than the facts and the law,” Albert said.

The lawyer for the National Organization for Marriage asked the board to submit, in writing, its request for the group’s fundraising calls and letters and hinted the group may resist, arguing the board is “treading on First Amendment rights” of free speech.

AUDIO of board meeting, 51:00