A key Iowa Republican insider says news accounts indicating Bob Vander Plaats discussed money as he talked with presidential candidates about making an endorsement look “troubling.”

Vander Plaats ran for governor in 2002, 2006 and 2010; he’s currently president of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian group, and he endorsed Rick Santorum this week. Doug Gross, a Des Moines lawyer, was the Iowa GOP’s nominee for governor in 2002.

“What I think we’ve got going is Bob is very much interested in his own future candidacy, at least for some particular higher office,” Gross says. “He’s run three times, so I think there’s a pattern here that’s developing and it appears that he wants to run again, I suspect, and anytime Bob can try to help promote himself I think he attempts to do that and I think what he was trying to do is get himself in a position where he could play a prominent role to help promote himself for a future candidacy.”

The head of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, formerly known as the Christian Coalition, is troubled by news accounts indicating Vander Plaats asked a candidate to consider dropping out of the race. Steve Scheffler, the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s president, says Vander Plaats is free to give his endorsement to whomever he chooses.

“There’s probably some people who support Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry who aren’t very happy with his decision,” Scheffler says. “…It also is a little bit troubling the reports that some campaigns like Michele Bachmann’s campaign was asked to basically kind of fold in or whatever the terminology was used and quite frankly I think in a process where these candidates have spent a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of energy, to ask a candidate to fold their efforts into another campaign is just not the way we do things here in Iowa.”

Scheffler and Gross made their comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs this evening at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television.

A statement issued Thursday afternoon by The Family Leader said the allegation that Vander Plaats “asked any campaigns for money in exchange for his endorsement is absolutely false.”  As for trying to get Bachmann to drop out of the race, The Family Leader statement indicated its board asked Vander Plaats to approach Bachmann, Rick Perry and Santorum and ask the three to “consider the concept of merging” to give conservatives a chance to rally around a single candidate.  Vander Plaats also, in the same statement, dismissed what he called “half-truths” being “circulated” among the media and fellow conservatives.