By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES — In his first 18 months as Iowa’s secretary of state, Matt Schultz has surrounded himself with Republican Party heavy hitters, many of whom have close connections to Schultz or his family, according to documents released to Iowa Watchdog.
Schultz has put one family member, a family friend and three political allies on the public payroll since being elected to office in 2010, an Iowa Watchdog review of employees showed.
Schultz was out of town and not immediately available for comment, said Chad Olsen, Schultz’s chief of staff.
Olsen, a more recent hire, oversaw the January caucuses as executive director of the Iowa Republican Party. He also led the party through a debacle, in which the party declared that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney had won the 2012 caucus — and then reversed course to announce that mistakes in vote tallies meant that former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had edged out Romney. Schultz endorsed Santorum.
Schultz’s first hire came shortly after his election when he announced Doug Struyk, a former state representative for Council Bluffs, would serve as his policy adviser and attorney, state records show. Struyk,who donated more than $100 to Schultz’s campaign and served as an attorney in Council Bluffs with him, also endorsed Schultz in his bid for secretary of state.
More followed. There was Brittani Jensen, Schultz’s executive assistant, who was fresh out of college and received more than $3,400 from his campaign for “professional services,” according to state campaign records.
Schultz hired Jim Gibbons after Gibbons’ unsuccessful 2010 congressional bid. Gibbons oversees business affairs for Schultz’s office despite having faced several lawsuits, in which he was accused of leaving his job at financial advisers Edward Jones for a competitor and then providing that competitor with inside information. A judge found that Gibbons breached his contract with Edwards, according to a report in Cityview, a weekly newspaper in Des Moines.
Gibbons also was sued for negligence and breach of duty, when he allowed two aged clients, who were not competent, to change the beneficiary information on their account, the paper reported. The account was valued at more than $200,000 in cash and securities.
Gibbons, Jensen and Struyk could not immediately be reached for comment. Olsen, who is also a spokesman for Schultz’s office, did not answer questions about their availability for comment or offer his own statement Tuesday.
Iowa Watchdog received a list of all employees and interns hired since Schultz took office through a Freedom of Information Act request. It came on the heels of an Associated Press report that revealed Schultz had violated state nepotism laws when he hired his younger brother, Andrew Schultz, for an office internship. Matt Schultz paid back the money his brother earned at the $10 an hour internship, The Associated Press said.
Andrew Schultz, who was just entering college, also was listed as a regular employee on state documents. Further clarification was not available from Schultz’s office.
This isn’t the first controversy Matt Schultz has faced during his tenure. He also faced an ethics complaint in June 2011, after Democrats alleged he inappropriately used his office to send out a news release criticizing GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman for skipping the Iowa caucuses. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board later dismissed the complaint.
He also was the target of an identity-theft case, in which a former Obama presidential campaign worker fraudulently sent Schultz an email claiming to be his brother, Thomas Schultz. The email said Thomas Schultz was getting paid by the Santorum campaign and there might be something in it for Matt Schultz, too, Matt Schultz told the AP.
Schultz has declined to release the email, saying it was sent to his personal account and is therefore not state business. Thomas Schultz recently told Iowa Watchdog that Obama staffer, Zachary Edwards, 29, has paid his dues and should be left alone to rebuild his life.
Schultz is connected to Santorum in several ways. Santorum created the Iowa Keystone Political Action Committee in 2010 and donated at least $10,000 to Schultz’s secretary of state campaign, records show. Schultz went on to beat incumbent Michael Mauro. He then used his position as a platform to endorse Santorum’s presidential bid, giving Santorum’s campaign a boost. Schultz was the first prominent elected official in the state to endorse a candidate publicly.