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Ethics Board Drops Complaint Against Rastetter

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board Thursday dismissed complaints against state Regent Bruce Rastetter on the basis the complaints were not legally sufficient, but a citizens group criticized that move and vowed to take up their issues against Rastetter through other channels.

"The Iowa ethics board made the wrong decision today, a decision that puts them squarely on the side of bad government of, by and for the corporations," Barb Kalbach, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement from Dexter, said. "We will continue to make our case in the public arena that Rastetter is not fit to serve on the Board of Regents and will now pursue this end by other means."

Rastetter did not attend the hearing, but his representatives said the decision shows the CCI complaints lacked merit. It has been a long process and Rastetter is glad to have it behind him, Spokesman Joe Murphy said.

"No public official should go through this process, and the type of tactics and antics that this group displayed was unfortunate, but it won't derail the good work that Bruce and the board and others will continue to do," Murphy said.

In a written statement, Rastetter said he strives to manage his business interests with the highest integrity.

"With this matter now behind me, I can focus my efforts on advocating on behalf of Iowa's outstanding universities and, most importantly, Iowa's students," he said.

The six-member ethics board voted unanimously to dismiss the complaints, after about an hour in closed session for discussion. Before the closed session, CCI and Rastetter attorney Richard Sapp each got 10 minutes to present to the board. The board is completely independent, nonpolitical and decisions are based strictly on the law, said James Albert, ethics board chairman and law professor at Drake University.

About 50 Iowa CCI members attended the meeting, and some shouted "shame!" as they left the meeting. Several group members called the board decision an embarrassment for Iowans.

During the presentation to the board, CCI member Ross Grooters, from Pleasant Hill, argued Rastetter acted unethically in trying to use Iowa State University's involvement to further his company's proposed land deal in Tanzania. Rastetter was late in filing his conflict of interest disclosure form with the ethics board after he became a regent in May 2011, and was slow to recuse himself from the project after he became a regent, Grooters said. The group also says Rastetter was not truthful on his personal financial disclosure form to the ethics board, listing himself as a farmer and self-employed without stating his involvement with several ag-related companies. Rastetter filed a new disclosure form before the ethics hearing, which shows he knew the first form was fraudulent, Grooters argued.

Sapp, the Des Moines attorney on behalf of Rastetter, said the CCI complaint does not present any facts that Rastetter improperly benefited as a regent from ISU's consulting role in the proposed land project. ISU's involvement as a consultant dated back to 2009, before Rastetter's term as a regent began in May 2011, Sapp said.

The ethics board found that Rastetter did disclose the existence of the conflict of interest, given his role with AgriSol and ISU's involvement with that company on the Tanzanian project. Rastetter did not take any official action or perform any official duty as a regent with respect to the project, the ethics board ruled, making that complaint legally insufficient.

The board also ruled that while Rastetter's initial financial disclosure form was "incomplete," it did not contain false or fraudulent information, and the board was satisfied with Rastetter's amended form filed this week.

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