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Ethics board dismisses conflict of interest complaint against regent Rastetter

BY STACEY MURRAY | AUGUST 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board dismissed a conflict of interest complaint against Regent Bruce Rastetter Thursday, but members of the Iowa City Citizens for Community Improvement  — who filed the original complaint — say this isn’t the end.

The complaint followed discussion of Rastetter’s Iowa-based company AgriSol — in which he is the cofounder and managing director — possibly partnering with Iowa State University for a project in the African nation of Tanzania that, the complaint alleged, had the potential to earn him millions of dollars, as previously reported by The Daily Iowan.

That particular project never reached Tanzania; Iowa State terminated the talks in February following the negative attention following the project.

Not only could this partnership have earned Rastetter large amounts of money, the project threatened to displace thousands of Tanzanian refugees, Citizens for Community Improvement maintained.

But what drove the ethics complaint was Rastetter’s membership on the state Board of Regents; the Iowa City Citizens for Community Improvement claimed he abused his role in attempting to engage Iowa State in a business partnership.  They called for his termination with the complaint they filed on June 19.

Rastetter could not be reached personally for this story, but a spokesman responded for him.
“We are pleased that the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted to dismiss the complaint against Bruce Rastetter,” Paula SDierenfeld, a member of the legal counsel representing Rastetter, wrote in an email statement provided to the DI on Thursday. “We’ve always believed the allegations by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement lacked merit. Bruce can now move on to accomplishing his goals as a regent.”

Regent Robert Downer said Thursday he trusts the decision made by the ethics board.

“It seems to me that this was the proper body to decide whether or not that complaint had any merit or not,” Downer said. “I have no to reason to doubt the decision they made.”

Yet not everyone is nearly as content with the decision. 

“The Iowa ethics board made the wrong decision today, a decision that puts it squarely on the side of bad government of, by and for the corporations,” said Barb Kalbach, a member from the Citizens for Community Improvement.  She said her group believes Rastetter held the interests of AgriSol above the Board of Regents when working with Iowa State officials.

AgriSol officials, however, maintained they reached out to Iowa State in order to help create outreach programs with Tanzanian farmers, according to earlier DI reports.

Rastetter told to DI reporters in July: “I want Iowans to know that this was a project, a good project, that we operated with integrity on how we went about it, that Iowa State University did, that I identified it as a regent as a potential conflict, and the system worked.”

Iowa State officials were not available for comment Thursday evening.

Despite the dismissal of the ethics complaint, Kalbach said the watchdog group will continue to pursuit Rastetter.

“We will not stop, give up, or quit,” she said. “We will continue to make our case in the public arena that Rastetter is not fit to serve on the Board of Regents and will now pursue this end by other means.”       


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