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Board Drops Complaint Against Rastetter

August 27, 2012
Northern Iowan

On Aug. 23, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board decided to drop an ethics complaint filed by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) against Iowa Board of Regents member BruceRastetter. The complaint stemmed from Rastetter’s business project in Tanzania, which CCI felt was a conflict of interest.

The complaint first formulated when the BOR appointed Rastetter, the CEO of Summit Farms and Summit Group, as President Pro Tem in 2011, according to the Des Moines Register.

Rastetter is also managing director of Agrisol Energy LLC, an umbrella company to Summit Group. Agrisol Energy leased 35,000 acres of land in Tanzania with the hopes of bringing better farming techniques to the country, but the lease became controversial when the Oakland Institute released a report stating the lease would displace thousands of refugees in Tanzania.

Iowa State University was originally involved with the project, with the plan of providing education to African farmers. CCI viewed this as a conflict of interest, as Rastetter serves on the BOR and also serves as managing director of Agrisol Energy.

“Rastetter crossed the line when he used the regents’ institution to promote his private business venture,” said Ross Grooters, member of CCI.

The BOR declined to comment on the issue, stating it was “too soon to respond.”

Rastetter filed a report regarding the conflict, listing himself as a “self-employed farmer.” This caused controversy as he failed to state his involvement as CEO of Summit Group and Agrisol Energy. On the week of the ethics board meeting, he amended and expanded his financial disclosure filing.

Last week, the ethics board listened to both sides and unanimously voted to drop the complaint against Rastetter.

“We’re really pleased with the decision from the ethics board yesterday, and I can speak for Bruce when (I say) he wants to put this behind him and get back to the important work on the Board of Regents, which is making sure that he’s doing everything he can for the students of Iowa and to promote the great universities we have in our state,” said Joe Murphy, director of public affairs for Summit Group. “As far as CCI is concerned, it’s unfortunate, and it’s too bad that a group like that continues to use scare tactics and other source of means to try to smear his name and drag him through the mud.”

As for the project in Tanzania, Murphy said Rastetter is still involved.

“The project is still moving forward. We’re still looking for partners and investors in that project, and as it was in the beginning, (it) continues to be to bring about food security to an area that needs it,” Murphy said.

Grooters believes Rastetter has been able to maintain a positive image.

“Bruce Rastetter time and time again did just enough to make him look good in a public light, so every time that he got caught or thought he looked bad, he did just enough to appease the public and that includes three days before the hearing, amending his falsified financial disclosure form,” Grooters said.

He also said he thinks the ethics board arrived at a decision before the hearing.

“I believe they had their mind made up for a long time that they need to protect Bruce Rastetter. Their decision wasn’t about the legal merits of the complaint,” Grooters said.

Murphy hopes the issue is settled now after the decision.

“The ethics board unanimously voted that there was no conflict,” Murphy said. “There was no fraudulent intent on Bruce’s financial disclosure form. This issue, as far (as I’m concerned) is put to rest.”

Grooters said he believes many people don’t know about the issue, and those who do know are upset about it.

“In my conversations with people there are two types of people,” Grooters said. “There are the people who haven’t heard about this and there are the people that are mad as hell that this individual is using his influence in this manner.”