Branstad places major campaign donor on Board of Regents

Tyler Kingkade

The co-founder of one of the nation’s largest ethanol companies, who donated more than $162,000 to Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2010 campaign, might sit on the Board of Regents, overseeing the budgets of Iowa’s public universities.

On Friday afternoon, Branstad named Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Ames-based Hawkeye Energy Holdings; Katie Mulholland, superintendent of Linn-Mar Community School District and Nicole Carroll, a lawyer, as his appointments for the Board of Regents.

The three would first have to be confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate.

Rastetter played a significant role in politics as he provided the seed money, estimated to be around $374,025, for the American Future Fund, although Rastetter’s lawyer, Daniel Stockdale, told the New York Times Rastetter never had any “decision-making” authority with the group.

Branstad served as the chairman of the fund’s lecture series before stepping down to enter the gubernatorial race.

The American Future Fund is registered as a 501(c)4 non-profit, meaning its donors do not have to be disclosed. However, they raised more than $7.5 million in 2008 and spent more than $10 million around the country targeting Democrats in the 2010 elections. Many of their targets had roles involving energy and agriculture policy.

The conservative fund says it’s focused on promoting free-market ideals but has launched ads against the Indy Racing League because of its choice to use sugar-based ethanol over corn-based ethanol gasoline.

The group is currently the focus of two formal complaints with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, claiming they violated their non-profit tax status and that they should change to a political action committee so their donors would be disclosed.

Many of their members have connections to Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, Branstad’s 2010 campaign and administration and other Iowa Republicans.

The Regents is one of the largest arms of Iowa’s state government but has received more significant cuts than any other area in the state in recent years. Over the past 10 years, they have increased in-state tuition by 99.7 percent.

“I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Bruce Rastetter to the Iowa Board of Regents,” Branstad said in a release. “Bruce’s knowledge he brings from being a CEO in the private sector will be an asset to the board as he works to create strategic plans, monitor progress and approve the budgets of the Regents institutions.”

Carroll holds a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and a graduate degree in law from the University of Iowa. She and her husband’s four children all graduated from Iowa State.

Mulholland holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Northern Iowa.

They would serve six-year terms that begin May 1 and run through April 30, 2017. The outgoing members of the Regents are all Democrats, appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Rastetter is a registered Republican, Mulholland is a Democrat, who has voted in Republican primaries, and Carroll is an independent who donated to Republican Rod Roberts in the past.

Nine citizen members sit on the Board of Regents. They oversee The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.