Your congressman's price tag

Rob Bignell
Editorial Notes

Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, December 10, 2003

If the Iowa Child Institute receives $50 million of federal aid for its proposed rain forest and aquarium in Coralville, it will have come cheap.

Ted Townsend, the Iowa Environmental/Education Project's brainchild, gave thousands of dollars to Sen. Chuck Grassley and the Republican Party during the past 15 years, federal campaign donation records reveal. But during the last several months Townsend also donated money to the campaigns of Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Jim Leach - both of who support funding the project.

That Townsend, the company he is chief executive officer of, or that his father who serves as board chairman of that company, sent dollars to Grassley isn't too surprising. Since at least 1992, they've regularly contributed to the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Iowa and to GOP candidates including Bob Dole, George Bush, Richard Lugar and Greg Ganske, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Townsend Engineering Co. is located in Des Moines, and Grassley as a federal senator represents the entire state.

Money for Harkin

But in 2001, Ted Townsend apparently had a change of heart about his political allegiance. On Dec. 18 of that year - as consultants for the Iowa Child Institute were holding informational meetings about the project in Coralville - he donated $1,000 to Harkin, who was running for re-election on the Democratic ticket.

That was followed on Sept. 20, 2002, with a $1,000 donation to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Com-mittee and another $1,000 donation to Iowa Senate 2002 - both of which helped fund Harkin's campaign.

Interestingly in the 2002 race, Harkin beat Ganske, who Ted Townsend's own mother, Cleda, gave $1,400 to while his father, as Townsend Engineering's board chairman, gave $3,200.

Even more oddly, Ted Townsend donated $1,500 to Ganske for his 2000 re-election bid to the House of Representatives. The long-time Republican from a solidly GOP family apparently found Ganske good enough for the House but not the Senate. And that came despite a $5,000 donation to the Republican Party of Iowa in July 2000.

How to Contact Representatives
Rep. Jim Leach (R)
  2186 Rayburn Building,
  Washington D.C. 20510
  Tel: (202) 225-6576
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R)
  135 Hart Senate Office Building,
  Washington D.C. 20510
  Tel: (202) 224-3744
Sen. Tom Harkin (D)
  731 Hart Senate Office Building,
  Washington D.C. 20510
  Tel: (202) 224-3254
Of course, in the months prior to the 2002 election, Democrats controlled the Senate, and Harkin served as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies - a key position for anyone seeking federal dollars or taxbreaks. And though the GOP now holds the Senate majority, Harkin remains on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

While Ted Townsend was busy supporting Harkin's campaign, he also donated $1,000 to Leach's re-election bid. On Oct. 11, 2002, Townsend gave $1,000 to Leach - even though Townsend doesn't reside in the 2nd Congressional District.

There's nothing illegal about that. Politicians frequently receive campaign contributions from those not living in a district or state but who have a financial interest there.

The contributions didn't end with the campaign, however. On June 23 of this year, Townsend gave $500 to Leach. On May 23, Grassley received $1,000. On Jan. 21, Harkin got another $1,000.

In addition, Dave Oman, the Iowa Child's chief administrative officer, donated $500 to Grassley on March 19 and $250 to Leach on Oct. 22, 2002. Oman resides in Des Moines, where the Iowa Child Institute is headquartered.

The payoff cometh?

On Monday, the House approved an omnibus appropriations bill that includes $50 million in federal aid for Townsend's project. Leach voted against the bill in a move for which he's become notorious: He shrewdly hints he's backing a concept (and in news stories Leach has been both upbeat and noncommittal to the Iowa Child project), supports it through committee, then casts the final floor vote against it so his voting record looks good. In any case, the House omnibus was in no danger of failing.

Grassley has been the point man in the Iowa congressional delegation's support for the rain forest. Not surprisingly, he helped secure a pledge from Senate leadership that at least $50 million in aid would be included in an appropriations measure. The Senate will take up its omnibus bill later this month.

Townsend, his parents and their company have do-nated money to Grassley at least as far back as 1992. Ray Townsend has given Grassley $7,750 since 1997. Townsend Engineering Co. provided a combined $11,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee from 1996 to 1998 as Grassley was gearing up for re-election. Cleda Townsend donated $200 in 1998.

The bottom line: Ted Townsend directly gave Grassley at least $1,000, Harkin at least $4,000 and Leach at least $1,500 during the past three years. Ray Townsend gave Grassley at least $7,750 during the past 11 years. Oman gave Grassley at least $500 and Leach at least $250 during the past 14 months. Grand total: $15,000.

"At least" is a key phrase. The totals don't include the $16,900 Ray Townsend, the $5,000 Ted Townsend or the $11,000 Townsend Engineering gave the Republican National Committee or Republican Party of Iowa since 1992 - money that benefited Grassley and Leach but didn't come from direct campaign contributions. In addition, donations often are given to Political Action Committees, which then support a variety of candidates; those records were not immediately available. And individual contributions of less than $200 are not part of the public record.

Still, we now know each of our congressmen's starting price if you want $50 million in federal aid - and it's fairly low.
Reach Rob Bignell, the Press-Citizen's editorial page editor, at