AG Miller returns contributions from egg family

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 31, 2010, 2:39pm


DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline) - A Republican candidate for Iowa attorney general criticized the state's longtime Attorney General Tom Miller on Monday for accepting a $10,000 campaign contribution in 2005 from the family at the center of a national egg recall.

After candidate Brenna Findley attacked Miller, the Democratic incumbent, in a recent news release, he agreed to return the money.

Peter DeCoster, the son of Wright County Egg owner Austin "Jack" DeCoster, made the donation to Miller on Dec. 28, 2005. The donation came after a 2000 agreement between the State and Jack DeCoster, in which he agreed to be labeled a "habitual offender," a designation intended to prevent him from opening any new farms for about four years, according to Fox News.

He had previously -- and repeatedly -- been fined for environmental violations, many of them involving hog waste, Fox News reports.

Wright County Egg is at the center of a recall of more than 550 million eggs that could contain salmonella. Some of the eggs were produced by another company, Hillandale Farms, that received feed from one of DeCoster's businesses, according to Fox.

"It is shocking that Miller would accept $10,000 from the DeCosters," Findley said in a statement. "Iowans deserve an open and transparent political process, free of backscratching and special deals."

Findley questioned why it took the attorney general only a matter of hours to return the donations, when he had five years to return them to begin with.

"Where there was smoke, there was fire, and Tom Miller felt the heat," Findley said in a statement.

"However, returning donations out of political expediency does not even begin to address the multitude of other scandals in which his office finds itself currently embroiled."

Miller defended his record of enforcing environmental laws against the DeCoster operations.

"In this state, no one was stronger on DeCoster than our office," Miller said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "We were the ones on the front lines prosecuting him."

In her most recent statement, Findley goes on to list the top five things Miller needs to do "to clean up his office."

The first included returning the thousands of dollars given by DeCoster. Among the others, Findley also is charging Miller with explaining why he refused to allow Gov. Chet Culver to fire Lynn Walding, former head of the Alcoholic Beverages Division, for alleged mismanagement and questions whether he investigated the "underlying allegations."

Findley, in her news release, said state auditors have investigated the Alcoholic Beverages Division and found improper spending, including "tens of thousands of dollars" on artwork, leather chairs, bicycles, a camper and high-definition televisions. Walding, she noted, was formerly a top staffer to Miller.

The Republican nominee for attorney general also says Miller's office should stop charging taxpayers and the media "up to $40 an hour" for access to public records.

She also challenges her opponent in November's election to go to all 99 counties "to listen to the concerns of everyday Iowans," as she is doing.

Miller was first elected to office in 1978 and has served continuously, save for one term after he lost a Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1990.

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