DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds says she will ask Iowa legislators next session to close what she considers to be a “loophole” in the law that apparently allows state officials to work also as agents of a foreign government — an arrangement she views as a potential conflict.
Last week, the Associated Press reported that Kim Schmett, a former GOP candidate for Congress who chairs the Iowa Employment Appeal Board, and his wife, Connie, who serves on a state health facilities oversight board, operate a consulting firm that was paid more than $101,000 by Saudi Arabia to lobby against a federal law that allows victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to sue that country.
Reynolds said her staff has asked the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board to review the matter and report its findings to see if any action is warranted. She noted the couple was appointed by former Gov. Terry Branstad and confirmed by the Iowa Senate to separate state posts with terms set by statute and “don’t serve at the pleasure of the governor.”
“We’ll move forward with that after they report back,” she told reporters at her weekly news conference Tuesday. “Legally we don’t know if they’ve done anything wrong and that’s why we’ve asked a third party to review that and report back to us if they have or have not and then we’ll move forward from that.”
According to the AP, the Schmetts are accused of being part of a campaign that misled veterans by concealing who was funding their advocacy work, which Connie Schmett failed to list on a recent disclosure filing for Iowa government officials. The Schmetts registered last year as foreign agents to campaign on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s interests against the law that helps an ongoing lawsuit brought by victims of the 2001 terror attacks over the kingdom’s alleged support for the hijackers, according to the AP report.
Asked if she thought agents of foreign governments should be working in state service, Reynolds said: “No. I think it’s something that the Legislature needs to take a look at. It appears that it is possibly a loophole in the statute.” She said she would support changing the law to close it.
“I don’t think that was taken into account when that statute was put into place and things have changed,” the governor noted, “and so I think it makes sense if you’re working for the state or a public official that it would be a conflict of interest to serve in that capacity. So I think that that makes sense for them to take a look at that.”
Reynolds told reporters she was not aware of the Schmetts’ consulting work when they hosted a recent campaign fundraiser for her. She said the couple has contributed $100 to her 2018 gubernatorial campaign and she will decide whether to return the money once the ethics board reports its findings.