Republican gubernatorial candidates say the scandal in the Iowa Film Office is shining a spotlight on Democratic Governor Chet Culver’s failings as a chief executive. On Friday, Culver suspended the state tax credit program for film makers and ordered an investigation. On Monday afternoon, Culver fired the manager of the film office. Representative Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City who’s running for governor, says this scandal is “typical” Culver.
“I mean, he is not a detail-oriented guy,” Rants says. “He talks in ‘big picture’ but lets somebody else sort it out and the problem is there’s a lot of money flowing through here and nobody was paying attention to the details.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong, a Cedar Rapids business executive, says it appears there was a “complete lack of oversight” of the state tax credits that were being extended to filmmakers.
“That $208 million of tax credits — the amount of tax credits which were pushed out in May and June, supposedly without anyone noticing — that that could happen without anyone noticing is a red flag for anybody who has had to manage or lead an organization,” Fong says. “Things of that scale just don’t happen unless there’s a systemic problem where people aren’t watching what’s going on.” Fong isn’t calling for closing the film office altogether as he says having the state portrayed in a good way on the big screen is worthwhile, but Fong says extending millions upon millions of dollars in tax credits to movie makers isn’t the best use of state resources.
“It’s just a matter of priorities. I’m from Underwood, Iowa. Why are we prioritizing Hollywood over Underwood?” Fong asks. “We’re just spending millions of dollars for something of questionable value when there are well over 100,000 Iowans unemployed.” Rants, the state representative, voted for the state tax credit program.
“We wanted to see how we couldn’t try to get more films being made here in Iowa. You’d have catering; you’d have construction; you’d have the extras — you’d have a lot of people providing a lot of services. We’ve seen it happen in Canada, Australia, other parts around the country,” Rants says. “…Unfortunately a good idea has been taken advantage of by some unscrupulous people and the people who were supposed to be the watchdogs in the Department of Economic Development weren’t doing their role, which unfortunately kind of makes the whole thing look bad.”
Representative Rod Roberts, a Republican from Carroll who is also running for governor, says a lapse of this magnitude is hard to believe. “I think a lot of people are amazed at the lack of awareness and oversight by Governor Culver and his staff in what is going on in some key departments and programs like this,” Roberts says. According to Roberts, the people of Iowa deserve a “thorough investigation” of what went wrong.
“It just adds to the people’s lack of trust and confidence in their leadership right now,” Roberts says. Republican legislative leaders have asked that the Legislative Oversight Committee hold hearings on the matter. The two Democrats who co-chair the committee have not responded to Radio Iowa’s request for an interview.