The Ethics Committee in the Iowa House has dismissed a complaint against a central Iowa lawmaker accused of trying to bribe a college student so that student wouldn’t run against him in the June Primary.
Republican Jake Highfill of Johnston is challenging Republican Representative Erik Helland’s bid for reelection. Highfill says Helland offered him money and a job if he would not run. Highfill filed a bribery complaint with the House Ethics Committee. The panel voted 4-2 to dismiss the complaint, deciding the committee didn’t have jurisdiction to consider the complaint because Highfill’s not an elected or appointed official.
Representative Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, voted to dismiss the matter, but he also asked that lawmakers consider rewriting their ethics rules.
“We don’t have any provisions — if we go home and commit murder, for example, there is not action that we as members of the Iowa House of Representatives can take,” Smith said.
The code of ethics for the House was written 33 years ago. Smith and another member of the House Ethics Committee said it was difficult to decide this particular case because the rules are written to deal with elected officials who take bribes, not with officials who are the ones offering the bribes.
Representative Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale, put it like this: “There’s a nuance there, but it’s a very important nuance.”
Raecker voted to dismiss the complaint.
Representative Phyllis Thede, a Democrat from Davenport, offered the motion that ruled Highfill’s complaint didn’t fall within the committee’s jurisdiction, but then she voted against dismissing the complaint altogether.
“I voted no because of the seriousness of the complaint,” Thede told reporters after the meeting. “I want to send a clear message that we do take this seriously.”
Three Republicans and a Democrat voted to dismiss the complaint. Thede and Representative Dan Kelly, were the two “no” votes on dismissal. Later, Kelly suggested the House “Code of Ethics” needs a rewrite.
“Ethics is a constantly evolving situation and I think that it may be time that we take a very, very serious look at our ethics code and try to find places where reform is necessary,” Kelly said. Kelly is a Democrat from Newton.
AUDIO of 40-minute House Ethics Committee meeting.
Representative Helland, the lawmaker accused of bribery, has “strongly” denied the charge. He did not attend today’s Ethics Committee meeting, nor did Highfill, the candidate who made the bribery allegation.