DES MOINES, Iowa – A debate has erupted within the organization responsible for governing much of Iowa’s caucus process over the rules regarding members’ political activities.
The by-laws of the Iowa GOP don’t prevent any member of the Republican State Central Committee (SCC) from endorsing, volunteering, or receiving pay from presidential campaigns, setting up complaints of perceived conflicts of interest in members’ decision-making.
The 17-member SCC operates on the authority of the Iowa GOP’s constitution, and is tasked with governing most of the primary process – from settling the Ames Straw Poll ballot to determining debate criteria and setting the date of the caucus, which the committee had placed on the calendar for Jan. 3.
Seven members of the committee have openly endorsed candidates, and some have taken paid staff positions — developments that have spurred a rift within the committee and among Republicans statewide.
Five SCC members – Drew Ivers, A.J. Spiker, David Fischer, Jeremiah Johnson and James Mills – have endorsed Texas Representative Ron Paul for president. Three of them hold paid positions with the Paul campaign.
Member Wes Enos endorsed and works for Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign, while national committeewoman Kim Lehman has endorsed former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
No other campaigns have public support from SCC members.
Some current and former party officials see a potential conflict of interest. Former Iowa GOP chairman Steve Grubbs, who is currently serving as Herman Cain’s state chair, is an outspoken opponent of serving the party and a campaign at the same time.
“It’s always a potential landmine for Central Committee members to endorse candidates during a Republican contest, since they are often called upon to officiate meetings with multiple candidates, or official party functions,” says Grubbs, who adds that he remained neutral when he served as the Iowa GOP chairman.
In interviews with NBC News, SCC members say the first sign of a potential conflict during the 2012 cycle bubbled up in July, when SCC members voted on the list of names to appear on the August 13 Ames Straw Poll ballot.
At issue was the inclusion of two names – Gov. Rick Perry and Sarah Palin. At the time, speculation swirled about both figures, but neither had declared for president.
“All the members that were supporting candidates recused themselves from voting on whether to add Palin and Perry,” National Committeeman Steve Scheffler told NBC News. He added that the members endorsing Paul and Bachmann handled those abstentions differently.
“During the discussion period, only Wes Enos [of the Bachmann campaign] spoke openly about his preference to keep them off, but the Ron Paul people did not even participate in the discussions,” Scheffler said.
The vote was tied, and Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn was called in to cast the deciding vote. Perry and Palin’s names were left off the ballot, with the stipulation voters could select them as write-in candidates.
Ivers was in favor of including Perry and Palin because of how high they were polling, but he didn’t speak out because he didn’t want to be “biasing the process.”