Expecting presidential candidates (potential or actual) to help local party organizations and state-level candidates has always been part of the game in Iowa. It’s an important part of how said presidential candidates pay their dues and show their respect to the First-in-the-Nation Caucuses and express their commitment to maintaining Iowa’s special status until the end of time. Sometimes would-be candidates swoop into midterm contests before running for president with fundraising and staff help for lucky Iowa aspirants for the legislature or the county commission. And it’s no accident that the state parties and some county parties in Iowa have the best tools of the trade money can buy — because of all that outside help.
This conduct, however, as reported by the Associated Press, is not how the game is played:
A top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer in Iowa has privately offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing his White House bid, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the conversations.
The overtures from Pat Murphy, a former state House speaker who is serving as a top adviser on Steyer’s Iowa campaign, aren’t illegal — though payments for endorsements would violate campaign finance laws if not disclosed. There’s no evidence that any Iowans accepted the offer or received contributions from Steyer’s campaign as compensation for their backing.
At least two legislative candidates who received such an offer from Murphy or unnamed others purporting to represent the Steyer campaign told AP about it all.
Iowa state Rep. Karin Derry, said Murphy didn’t explicitly offer a specific dollar amount, but made it clear Derry would receive financial support if she backed Steyer.
“It was presented more as, he has provided financial support to other downballot candidates who’ve endorsed him, and could do the same for you,” she said.
[Tom] Courtney described a similar interaction with Steyer’s campaign.
“Tom, I know you’re running for Senate. I’m working for Tom Steyer,” Courtney recalled hearing from the aide. “Now you know how this works … He said, ‘you help them, and they’ll help you.’”
Team Steyer was quick to disclaim any authorization for Murphy or anyone else to make these sort of deals, and indeed, indicated that their billionaire candidate “hasn’t made any individual contributions to local officials in Iowa and won’t be making any this year.” Indeed, you have to figure some candidates hoping that Steyer might smile on them are now angry that this story has ruined things for everyone. For that matter, there are countless Democrats around the country who profoundly wish Steyer would spend exclusively on down-ballot races instead of pursuing a doomed presidential bid of his own.
Whether or not Murphy did offer cash-for-endorsements, with or without the knowledge of the campaign, it’s a bad look for a presidential candidate already standing accused of trying to buy his way onto debate stages and into viability. And the story won’t make him any friends among Iowans who think he’s made it look like their support is for sale.