Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) is under fire again for ethical missteps regarding the Tom Harkin Institute at Iowa State University.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Harkin’s lawyer supplied the university a list of potential donors to the institute. Included on the list were several companies who benefitted from the senator’s amendments to the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.
The list was provided after Harkin met with university officials about the institute, the Journal reported.
University officials recalled Harkin offering to follow up with the potential donors on the list after the university made the initial solicitation. However, Harkin denied offering to make follow-up solicitations.
Harkin’s office did not return a request for comment on the Wall Street Journal’s story.
The institute’s future is now in jeopardy after the senator decided not to donate his papers from his 30-year tenure in the senate. The papers were a key part in the formation of the institute and its website still says that it will house the retiring senator’s papers.
The university did not ultimately contact the list of potential donors provided by Harkin’s lawyer because the institute’s future is uncertain, the Journal wrote.
The institute has been mired in controversy since its conception.
Sen. Harkin’s wife, Ruth Harkin, sits on the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees Iowa’s higher education system. She worked behind the scenes to develop the plans for the institute and she excluded conservative Republicans whom she thought would not support the institute for her husband from the conversation.
Mrs. Harkin rushed to have the regents approve the institute because the board was shifting into more conservative hands only a few days after the regents’ meeting, the Associated Press reported.
The names of the institute’s actual donors have surfaced because Iowa State is a public university, subject to open records laws. Harkin has championed some prominent donors’ interests.
Harkin has long been a proponent of transitioning to a one-dollar coin, a move that would greatly benefit major donor to the Harkin Institute, PMX Industries.
PMX has had over $450 million dollars worth in contracts with the United States Mint since 2008—$94 million alone for the dollar coin, the AP reported.
Sen. Harkin sponsored legislation at the beginning of 2012 that would move the country from the paper dollar to the dollar coin, a move that could create a windfall for PMX.
Herbalife was another beneficiary of Harkin’s legislative work who donated significantly to the Harkin Institute.
Harkin is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, a position that afforded him significant influence over the formation of Obamacare.
He drafted the "wellness" portion of Obamacare, which emphasizes healthy living. Herbalife is well known for its weight-loss and other wellness products.
Herbalife’s donations to a Harkin-connected entity are nothing new: Its employees and PACs were Harkin’s largest donors to his campaigns between 1989 and 2012.
Sen. Harkin’s schedule indicated that he met with Herbalife officials shortly before they donated to his institute.
He has denied ever soliciting donations for his institute, the Wall Street Journal reported.