Watchdog Files FEC Complaint Against Sen. Joni Ernst for Creating Dark Money Group to Aid Her Campaign

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 16, 2019

Contact: Daniel Stevens,, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) seeking an investigation into Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Iowa Values, a dark money organization set up to support Sen. Ernst’s reelection campaign.

Click here to download a PDF of the complaint.

CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens, “Federal campaign finance laws explicitly outlaw attempts by elected officials to circumvent disclosure laws by raising money for outside dark money groups. Sen. Ernst appears to have directed her campaign aides to run a shadow campaign operation through a nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. The FEC should immediately investigate Sen. Ernst’s conduct to determine whether she violated federal law.”

Iowa Values is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that has purchased Facebook ads to bolster Sen. Ernst’s reelection campaign. The ads contain photographs of Sen. Ernst that appear to have been taken directly from Sen. Ernst’s campaign website. The Associated Press recently published internal documents, including a strategy memo, detailing how Sen. Ernst helped Iowa Values raise money and how the group planned to spend money to support Sen. Ernst’s campaign.

Iowa Values is entirely a creation of former aides to Sen. Ernst. The group’s founding executive director, Jon Kohan, was a close ally and former campaign manager for Sen. Ernst. While running Iowa Values, Mr. Kohan also worked at the Washington, D.C. consulting firm Jamestown Associates, which was retained by Sen. Ernst’s campaign committee and leadership PAC. Additionally, Iowa Values’ founding documents list as its business location the Virginia address of another former aide’s consulting firm. While Iowa Values used her address, the aide, Claire Holloway Avella, served as fundraising consultant for Sen. Ernst’s campaign operations.

In 2019, Iowa Values named Derek Flowers as executive director. Mr. Flowers also has longstanding ties to Sen. Ernst, having worked as her campaign manager in 2014 and for her leadership PAC in 2015. In 2017, two years before Mr. Flowers was officially involved with Iowa Values, the group filed paperwork with the Iowa Secretary of State claiming its business was located at the address where Mr. Flowers owned a condominium. Sen. Ernst’s campaign committee, leadership PAC, and joint fundraising committees have paid thousands of dollars to Mr. Flowers directly and have paid $130,000 to a consulting firm registered at Mr. Flowers’ condominium address.

Federal law prohibits federal candidates and their agents from directly or indirectly establishing an entity that solicits, receives, directs, transfers or spends funds in connection with a federal election that are not subject to the contribution limits, source prohibitions, and reporting requirements established by the FEC. Iowa Values, a nonprofit organization that does not disclose its donors, appears to be a creation and ongoing project of Sen. Ernst’s agents in direct violation of the law.

Click here to read all of CfA’s FEC complaints.

Mr. Stevens continued, “Illegal conduct is illegal regardless if anyone is watching. Sen. Ernst appears to have presided over a dark money operation designed to raise huge amounts of money from secret donors. Iowans should be concerned about who is funding Sen. Ernst’s campaign and why she is ignoring campaign finance laws.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.