PolitiFact Iowa is a project of The Daily Iowan’s Ethics & Politics Initiative and PolitiFact to help you find the truth in politics.
Edited by Lyle Muller and Sarah Watson
If your time is short
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann wrote on Twitter that Mike Bloomberg and Fred Hubbell wasted millions on Iowa legislative races this year.
Hubbell and a political action committee he established spent a substantial amount on Democratic candidates but Bloomberg did not donate any money to Iowa candidates or organizations in 2020.
Some of the candidates Hubbell supported were defeated by their Republican opponents by large margins, but others won or lost by just a few hundred votes.
Post-election hand-wringing is well underway among Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats asking themselves why their performance in this year’s general election in Iowa was so disappointing when they commanded a significant fundraising advantage over Republicans.
Iowa’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Theresa Greenfield, for example, raised more than twice the amount of her opponent, Republican incumbent Joni Ernst. Yet Greenfield lost by almost 7 percentage points.
That trend proved true in Iowa’s state and local races as well. Iowa Republicans flipped seven Iowa House seats and maintained control of all their Senate seats, even though the Iowa Democratic Party outraised the Republican Party of Iowa by almost $3 million.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann made note of that when he tweeted on Nov. 27 that “Sir Frederick Hubbell literally blew 100s of thousands of dollars on #ialegis races where there were plenty of reasons to believe the GOP would win, but he had an ax to grind with the family or candidate.”
Sir Frederick Hubbell literally blew 100s of thousands of dollars on #ialegis races where there were plenty of reasons to believe the GOP would win, but he had an ax to grind with the family or candidate. Hubbell’s rather infantile anger certainly got in the way of common sense.
— Jeff Kaufmann (@kaufmannGOP) November 27, 2020
It was a reference to Fred Hubbell, a wealthy Des Moines businessman who is a significant Democratic Party donor and the party’s 2018 candidate for Iowa governor.
In a subsequent tweet on Nov. 28, Kaufmann wrote:
“Millions of Hubbell and Bloomberg dollars wasn’t enough to overcome the Iowa House Republican avalanche of success. Sir Frederick and Little Mike have the political skills of President Millard Fillmore.”
Millions of Hubbell and Bloomberg dollars wasn’t enough to overcome the Iowa House Republican avalanche of success. Sir Frederick and Little Mike have the political skills of President Millard Fillmore. #ialegis #iapolitics
— Jeff Kaufmann (@kaufmannGOP) November 28, 2020
The White House biography of Millard Fillmore describes the nation’s 13th president as an “uninspiring man.”
We looked at whether Hubbell and Bloomberg really spent millions so ineffectually during the general election.
Bloomberg, the billionaire former Mayor of New York who ran for president unsuccessfully this year, is known as a Democratic fundraising giant and has donated to Iowa campaigns in the past. He donated $250,000 to Hubbell’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign and another $250,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party that same year, campaign reports show.
This year, however, Bloomberg did not donate money to Iowa’s state legislative candidates or the party, according to data from the Iowa Elections and Campaign Disclosure Board, so spending by him could not have been thwarted by Republican House success in the election.
Hubbell is a different story. The former gubernatorial candidate who lost to Republican Kim Reynolds in 2018, Hubbell continued to be a regular Democratic Party donor in 2020.
Hubbell has donated $156,450 to Iowa Democratic candidates for the Legislature and Democratic organizations since Jan. 1, financial disclosure reports examined at the beginning of December showed. Hubbell’s wife, Charlotte Hubbell, donated $5,350, and combined, the two have donated $164,300.
While individual contributions to campaigns are important, political action committees (PACs) are another aspect of campaign finance. Because PACs are not as tightly regulated as campaign committees, it’s difficult sometimes to know where that money comes from or what is done with it. But, we know that the Better Democracy PAC, which Fred and Charlotte Hubbell founded in 2019 with the goal of flipping the Iowa House, donated $1,150,864 to Iowa House candidates, the Democratic Party and party funds such as ActBlue and Path to Victory.
It’s fair to say that Fred Hubbell spent thousands of dollars in this election cycle. Judging whether or not that money was put to good use is a subjective call.
Neither Hubbell nor the Better Democracy PAC could be reached for comment when PolitiFact tried to contact them.
Of the 23 Democratic state legislative candidates whom the Hubbells and the Better Democracy PAC donated to directly, eight won and 15 lost. Of those who won, two won by more than 10 percentage points and two ran unchallenged. Of those who lost, six lost by more than 10 percentage points and two lost by almost 30 percentage points.
Other races were more tightly contested, though, with some being decided by just a few hundred votes.
We tried to reach Kaufmann for comment for this story several times but did not hear back from him.
The claim that Michael Bloomberg spent substantially in this year’s Iowa legislative races is false. He did not donate directly to any legislative candidates in 2020. He donated to political organizations that, in turn, donated to other political organizations that sent money to Iowa candidates, but others also contributed to those organizations to support Democrats in several states. Saying Bloomberg donated to the organizations to pump thousands of his dollars to Iowa would distort how that funding is distributed.
Hubbell, on the other hand, donated to Iowa legislative candidates, both personally and through the Better Democracy PAC. While the motivation behind Hubbell’s spending is unclear, it’s true that several of the candidates Hubbell supported were defeated handily by Republicans, a point Kaufmann can make in his argument about Hubbell. However, other Democratic legislative candidates Hubbell supported financially won or lost by just a few hundred votes, indicating some of those races were competitive.
We’re splitting the difference here with the claims about Bloomberg’s spending false and Hubbell’s spending true, for a rating for the tweet of Half True.
Iowa Capital Dispatch, “GOP expands Iowa House majority, holds Senate,” by Kathie Obradovich, Nov. 4, 2020.
Open Secrets, “Iowa, State Summary, 2020 cycle,” Center for Responsive Politics.
Open Secrets, “Iowa: Congressional Races,” Center for Responsive Politics.
Reuters, “For Senate Democrats, campaign money couldn’t buy happiness,” by David Morgan, Nov. 7, 2020.
Jeff Kaufmann Twitter Posts
Data from the Iowa Elections and Campaign Disclosure Board
Schedule B Expenditures, Better Democracy PAC, Oct. 19, 2020 report
Data from the Federal Elections Commission
Data from the Iowa Secretary of State
The website of Better Democracy PAC
Millard Fillmore biography, The White House website