DES MOINES, Iowa — A Republican activist who serves as a governor-appointed member of a state board was fined $250 on Thursday and reprimanded by a state ethics board for failing to disclose her consulting firm earned money from Saudi Arabia for lobbying the federal government.
The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board concluded that Connie Schmett made omissions on personal finance disclosure statements as required under state law. She can appeal the board’s action and seek a hearing.
Schmett and her husband, Kim, own Schmett & Associates, a consulting firm that collected $103,500 for a Saudi Arabia-funded public relations campaign between October 2016 and September 2017. They lobbied against a federal law that helps an ongoing civil lawsuit brought by victims of the 2011 terrorist attacks over the Saudi kingdom’s alleged support for the hijackers. As part of the campaign they recruited veterans to warn Congress that it would have unintended consequences for those serving overseas. At least one veteran said he was not told the lobbying effort was paid for by the Saudis and he confronted Schmett about it in February. She told him to keep it quiet. She told The Associated Press in November that she didn’t mislead any veterans and her failure to disclose consulting income was an oversight.
Connie Schmett, 71, is on the powerful Health Facilities Council, which evaluates plans for new hospitals and nursing homes. She’s also a trustee of the Iowa Cultural Trust Board, which awards grants.
She omitted her role with Schmett & Associates on disclosure forms for 2015 and 2016. The forms ask whether she had any outside “business, occupation, or profession” or sources of income over $1,000, she checked boxes that said no. She also failed to list income from Social Security and a state retirement fund. She did not disclose income in 2016 from an investment account she inherited, the ethics board said.
The board voted 3-2 to impose the fine and reprimand.
“I think it’s a serious omission,” said board member Jonathan Roos.
The board found she did not violate state laws regulating conflicts of interest, lobbying restrictions or making political contributions as a state official.
Some board members expressed concern, however, that she donated at least $3,300 to political campaigns or candidates using the name Connie Russell, her name before she was married in 1994, but the board concluded she did not technically violate an Iowa law that require donors to disclose their name and address.
The Schmetts, who live in suburban Des Moines, received state government appointments from former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and are regulars at the Westside Conservative Club, a group known for hosting presidential candidates. Their firm focuses on federal policy.
They hosted a campaign fundraiser for Gov. Kim Reynolds, and donated money to her campaign.
A campaign disclosure filing last week showed that Reynolds returned a $100 donation from Kim Schmett.
Kim Schmett, 64, is chairman of the Employment Appeal Board, an $80,000-per year judicial position in which he rules on disputes involving unemployment benefits and other matters. He ran for Congress in 2008.
The board found he violated no laws.
Reynolds asked the independent ethics board to review the Shmetts activities.
“The governor is working with the legislature to create a law banning this type of activity to keep it from happening again,” said Reynolds’s spokeswoman Brenna Smith.
Reynolds said in November she was unaware of their foreign work when she attended the fundraiser and disagreed with the Schmetts’ opposition to the law.
The Schmetts’ attorney, Rebecca Brommel, declined to comment at the ethics board meeting.
Ryan Foley in Iowa City, Iowa contributed to this report.