Sexton inquiry

‘Ultimately we were satisfied that he was not violating Iowa’s campaign finance laws’

State Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, continues to pay fair market value for a space he rents for his campaign and as a result did not violate Iowa’s campaign finance laws, according to Megan Tooker, executive director for the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

“Ultimately we were satisfied that he was not violating Iowa’s campaign finance laws,” Tooker said Thursday.

Tooker said her office was contacted within the past few months to look into Sexton’s finances. She said Sexton’s committee was due for another routine audit at about that time.

“There wasn’t a special audit for this,” Tooker said. “We looked into it as part of his routine audit.”

Sexton and his wife, Rebecca Sexton, purchased a property located at 1106 10th Ave. in Manson in November 2015. Tall Corn Property LLC, owned by the Sextons, is the business entity that manages the property.

In August 2016, Sexton’s campaign started paying Tall Corn Property for the headquarters’ expenses and rent.

The individual who contacted Tooker wondered if the rent was a legitimate expense.

Sexton pays $400 for rent and utilities. The space occupies 1,200 square feet.

Sexton told Tooker through emails that he uses the space to store campaign items such as yard signs, and for office space to work in and meet people.

He also told Tooker that until recently Manson Transportation Service used the rest of the building.

Sexton charged that company 66 cents per square foot.

According to Sexton, the trucking company wanted to rent the entire building, but he wanted some room for his campaign. As a result, the trucking company relocated to another building.

“It’s a commercial space he owns through this LLC that he rents out,” Tooker said. “It’s permissable for him to rent the space, it just has to be fair market value. Our statute says you cannot make payments clearly in excess of the fair market value of the item or service purchased.”

In a letter to Sexton dated Sept. 27, Tooker wrote, “Based on the totality of the circumstances, I am satisfied that the amount your LLC is charging your campaign for rent and utilities appears reasonable and is not “clearly in excess of fair market value.”

Tooker said she based her decision on the fact that Sexton was able to produce evidence that he was able to get a higher rate from other renters and that he was able to provide a certified letter from a realtor who gave a professional opinion that the space was rented below market rate.

Sexton said the questions about his finances were first raised by an online political blog called Bleeding Heartland.

“There was an anonymous call to the Bleeding Heartland and an anonymous call to campaign ethics,” Sexton said Thursday. “But if they did some fact-checking on what rent was in Calhoun County, there wouldn’t have been a story in the beginning, but that’s beside the point.”

“At the end of the day I had a real estate agent do it for me and I am not even paying what the average rent is,” he added. “I am below the average rent.”

According to Sexton, the realtor assessed six properties in Manson and Rockwell City and found that the average rent per square foot was 38 cents. Sexton’s was 25 cents.

“This is the kind of stuff, in my opinion, when the other side doesn’t want to talk about the issues, they have to do this kind of stuff,” Sexton said. “We are seeing that at the federal level now. Politics is so crappy now, the average citizen is tired of it. Instead of talking about issues, they are running around trying to find something you supposedly did wrong. That’s too bad for politics, I think.”

Rather than rent, Sexton said mileage is an issue he wonders about.

“In September I logged 1,367 miles,” he said. “I could if I wanted to, I could reimburse myself to those miles. In my opinion, rent is black and white. There’s no gray area like this mileage deal is. There’s a ton of legislators that reimburse themselves for their mileage.”

Sexton said to this point he has not reimbursed himself for mileage.

“I really don’t reimburse myself for anything,” he said. “All the church dinners and community events we go to. In fact, Labor Day I paid $45 for breakfast on Saturday in Fonda for campaign to eat breakfast. On Monday in Dayton for the parade, I paid $75 and bought everyone lunch and I didn’t even reimburse myself for those costs.”

He added, “People don’t realize all the extra money you spend out here campaigning and then they want to come after me for this rent deal. It’s just kind of pathetic. But it’s their right to challenge it.”