DES MOINES, IOWA — A report from State Auditor Rob Sand says Governor Kim Reynolds violated a state law which she herself signed when she appeared in a public service announcement urging Iowans to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s office, however, says she was acting under emergency powers and Sand’s argument is faulty.
The disagreement centers on the governor’s “Step Up, Stop the Spread” media campaign launched last year to encourage Iowans to wear masks, socially distance and follow other CDC guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. That campaign included TV and radio ads that were paid for using federal CARES Act money. The advertisements featured Governor Reynolds and others, including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Reynolds was the only statewide elected official to appear in the ads.
According to a report released by the office of State Auditor Rob Sand on Thursday, the governor’s appearance in the ads was against the law. In 2018, Governor Reynolds signed a bill into law making it illegal for a statewide official to appear in any promotion or advertisement that using public funds which that official approved. Under the law, Sand says violators could be forced to repay the money misspent on the ads.
Governor Reynolds’ office is defending her appearance in the ads and says Sand is misreading the law. In a statement released on Thursday morning shortly after Sand published his report, the governor argues that her appearance in the ads is legal because she is granted extended power during a public health emergency.
The governor’s office says they were not consulted before Sand released his report:
“Any competent reading of the plain language of state code would have acknowledged the role of the Governor in promoting an emergency order. Neither the Governor’s Office nor the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board were consulted prior to the issuance of Auditor Sand’s report. If that had happened, anyone within those offices could have directed the Auditor to the plain language of Iowa’s image-and-likeness statute and pointed out that, during a disaster emergency, the Governor may address Iowans in a public service announcement.”E-mail from Governor Reynolds’ office
Auditor Sand’s office responded to the governor’s statement, offering a correction to their claims. Sand says the governor does have the authority to act in spite of the law during an emergency, but she must explicitly announce she is waiving provisions of the law. That is something she did not do, according to Sand.