As government ethics issues go, cronyism isn't usually at the top of our list of grievances.
The level of outrage reserved for politicians who appoint their pals to well-paid government positions rates somewhere below the indignation we feel when someone drives too fast on the interstate. We may not like it, but it happens all the time, and we have more important things to worry about. Like sexual harassment in the workplace, for example.
But because of cronyism, some of the things we do worry about — misspending of government money, conflicts of interest, and yes, sexual harassment — can run rampant, and no one wants to say a thing about it.
The report of the independent investigation into sexual harassment at the Iowa Finance Authority carries a strong whiff of cronyism. It's just hard to detect under the nauseating reek of breast-grabbing, demeaning nicknames, crude humor, displays of pornography and blatant sexual innuendos attributed to the former agency executive director.
The director, Dave Jamison, was fired by Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 24 after two female employees reported detailed allegations of sexual harassment against him over several years. The investigation by the Weinhardt Law Firm, commissioned by Iowa Finance Authority, not only evaluated the allegations but also looked at who knew about Jamison's conduct but failed to report it.
The report states that Jamison denied all allegations of misconduct, but it also concluded that his denials weren't credible.
Investigators found only one instance in which Jamison allegedly threatened an employee who suggested he tone down his inappropriate remarks. But the report states:
"We did find, however, that Mr. Jamison regularly touted his relationship with Governor Reynolds to other employees at IFA, particularly after she became governor. At least some IFA employees inferred from Mr. Jamison's claims about his relationship with the governor that he had the power to squelch complaints about his behavior. That may have discouraged reports about his behavior."
It's well-known that Jamison was a longtime friend of Reynolds going back to the days when both were county treasurers. Reynolds didn't hire him for the IFA job; that was former Gov. Terry Branstad. The political patronage was obvious: Jamison was among several failed candidates from the 2010 election who got a soft landing with a state appointment from Branstad.
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Reynolds, in a statement responding to the report, denied knowing about Jamison's inappropriate behavior and expressed dismay that he may have used their friendship as a shield.
"While it is not a secret that Mr. Jamison and I were friends, having served as county treasurers at the same time, I had no idea that he behaved this way. . Among many troubling issues raised by this investigation, I am frustrated that Mr. Jamison created the impression that he wouldn't face consequences because of my friendship with him. That could not be further from the truth."
This isn't about bashing Reynolds. I don't think her administration is demonstrably worse than others when it comes to hiring personal associates. Having friends in high places obviously didn't save Jamison's job, and it probably wasn't Reynolds' fault if he took advantage of their relationship. But it does help explain why Jamison's alleged outrageous conduct could continue for years before someone finally complained.
Instead, this is about putting voters on notice about why we should be wary when public officials hire their friends, donors and even family members to government jobs.
Cronyism was also an element in the Iowa Communications Network scandal earlier this year. The agency's executive director, Ric Lumbard, was fired amid allegations that he misspent almost $380,000 of taxpayer money. He was also accused of hiring associates from a charitable organization that Lumbard was running while also holding the full-time state position. Some members of the commission charged with oversight of the ICN later admitted they had been too trusting of Lumbard, who had worked at the ICN since 2006 and was promoted to executive director in 2014.
State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he would look into hiring reforms but added that "the best way to uncover fraud is whistleblowing." That's surely true, but whistleblowing doesn't happen when an executive can hire his or her pals or squelch concerns by flaunting powerful connections.
One of the most important tasks of any executive is to hire the most qualified people. That's especially true of our governor, who is doing the people's work with taxpayers' money. It's the job of our senators to make sure nominees for top government jobs are qualified and that they're doing the job.
As voters, we should be seeking assurances from candidates that they won't use their position as an employment agency for their buddies. Iowans were disgusted and dismayed by the allegations of misconduct at IFA and the ICN. We should be just as alarmed by the cronyism that allows that shocking behavior to go unreported.