Democrats Call for End to Lobbyist Contract, Judiciary Investigation
Cite Ethical Lapses in Secret Hiring of Lobbyist & Potential Corruption
Des Moines, Iowa — Two Iowa lawmakers sent a letter to the Iowa Speaker of the House and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee today requesting they terminate the secret contract of a registered lobbyist and end their investigation into Iowa District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe.
“Since the investigation began, we have expressed concerns that your unprecedented decision to launch a free standing investigation into an officer of the Judicial Branch could be seen by the public as an attempt by politicians, lobbyists, and outside groups to push their own agenda and inappropriately interfere with a separate but equal branch of government. Hiring a lobbyist in secret to represent the House Judiciary Committee carrying out an investigation into the Judicial Branch only exacerbates this concern,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.
House Ethics Rules forbid employees from lobbying and working for a political action committee. The attorney hired by Rep. Steve Holt and Speaker Pat Grassley, Alan Ostergren, is both a registered lobbyist and the president of a political action committee as defined in the ethics rules.
“A revolving door where any person is a registered lobbyist in the morning and acts as a state employee in the afternoon is a recipe for corruption. Iowans are already skeptical of government today and this will only deepen concerns that government is run by special interests and lobbyists,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. “At best, this ethical lapse has the appearance of impropriety. Terminating the contract with Mr. Ostergren is the first step we can take to restore the credibility of our institution.”
The Iowa House Judiciary Committee never discussed or voted on the need for outside counsel or on retaining Mr. Ostergren for the investigation into Judge Kurt Stoebe. Last week, the Judicial Qualifications Commission confirmed that they are conducting their own investigation into the allegations against Judge Stoebe. While the Judiciary Committee did rescind subpoenas last week, the investigation was not closed and the contract with Mr. Ostergren is still in effect.
The letter sent to Speaker Grassley and Rep. Holt is attached as well as Mr. Ostergren’s contract with the Iowa House.
Tuesday, March 8, 2002
Speaker Grassley & Representative Holt,
We are writing to inform you that the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee decline and renounce any purported attorney-client relationship with Attorney Alan Ostergren.
Last Tuesday morning, we received an electronic copy of a letter written by Mr. Ostergren to Attorney General Tom Miller. In the letter, Mr. Ostergren stated that he had been retained by the House Judiciary Committee to represent the committee with regard to the legislative inquiry into the conduct of District Court Judge Kurt J. Stoebe.
As you know, the House Judiciary Committee never discussed or voted on the need for outside counsel, or on retaining Mr. Ostergren. About 15 minutes after the letter was received, Rep. Holt sent a text message to Rep. Wolfe to inform her that it was his intention to discuss the matter with her in person on Monday but he was unable to find her. While we take him at his word, it should be noted that the House debated seven bills that day and both of us voted on all of them from the House Floor.
During the Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday, March 3, 2022 Representative Holt stated that if the committee had discussed and voted on the appropriateness of hiring Alan Ostergren as outside counsel the result would have been the same – i.e., no harm, no foul. Obviously, the same analysis could be applied to every bill that the majority party chooses to run off the House floor, but as lawmakers, it is essential that our work be conducted in public with rigorous debate and discourse, especially pertaining to investigations involving another branch of government.
Demanding transparency from other public bodies while making decisions in secret denigrates the credibility of our own institution.
In addition to our concerns with the process (or lack thereof) used to select and retain outside counsel, the Democratic members of the House Judiciary are declining representation by Alan Ostegren because we believe his employment by the House is fraught with ethical concerns. He is currently a registered lobbyist working on behalf of the Kirkwood Institute, an organization that is not required to disclose its donors and is considered a political action committee by House Ethics Rules.
As you know, House Ethics Rules forbid employees from lobbying and working for a political action committee, and yet Mr. Ostergren – a registered lobbyist and the president of a political action committee – was hired by the Iowa House to act as legal counsel for a standing legislative committee.
Mr. Ostergren has not canceled his lobby registration and thus could hypothetically be representing members of the Judiciary Committee in court in the morning and lobbying those same legislators in the afternoon. The written “letter of engagement” – which is apparently the only documentation of the agreement between the House of Representatives and Mr. Ostergren – contains zero provisions to prevent this internal conflict and protect the honor and integrity of the General Assembly.
At an absolute minimum, this arrangement has the appearance of impropriety.
We are also concerned that the “letter of engagement” is woefully short on other details. It sets out Mr. Ostergren’s hourly rate ($400) and his agreement to bill the Iowa House no more than $2,000 a month “without authorization of Rep. Holt,” but the scope and the duration of his representation is left wide open. Attorney fee contracts, when done correctly, protect the client by clearly establishing the parameters of the attorney’s employment – this one paragraph letter, authored by Mr. Ostergren, lacks any such parameters.
Finally, in addition to the concerns expressed above, Mr. Ostergren engaged in conduct while serving as the Muscatine County Attorney that, in our opinion, disqualifies him from representing the Iowa House of Representatives in any legal matter. In 2015, Mr. Ostergren used money seized by the Muscatine County Drug Task Force to buy himself a new Jeep Grand Cherokee, and justified the purchase with a rationale that made no sense. In another instance, Mr. Ostergren was the subject of an Iowa Civil Rights complaint regarding overaggressive and arguably incompetent prosecution that ultimately cost the taxpayers of Muscatine County $50,000.
As you know, the House Democrats have expressed ongoing concerns that your unprecedented decision to launch a free standing investigation into an officer of the Judicial Branch could be seen by the public as an attempt by politicians, lobbyists, and outside groups to push their own agenda and inappropriately interfere with a separate but equal branch of government.
Hiring a lobbyist in secret to represent a legislative committee that is carrying out an investigation into the Judicial Branch only exacerbates this concern.
Since the Judicial Qualifications Commission has now confirmed that they are conducting their own investigation into the allegations against Judge Stoebe, we respectfully request that you terminate the House’s problematic investigation into the same matter, and terminate the House’s problematic attorney client relationship with Alan Ostergren.
Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, House Minority Leader
Rep. Mary Wolfe, Ranking Member of House Judiciary Committee