Iowa Senate Candidate Takes Thousands From Corporate-Funded PACs

Democrat Theresa Greenfield has made campaign finance a centerpiece of her campaign

Theresa Greenfield / YouTube Screenshot
June 29, 2020

Iowa Democratic Senate hopeful Theresa Greenfield has benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate special interest money even as she campaigns against the influence of money in politics.

The Iowa Democrat has accepted nearly $200,000 in campaign contributions from leadership PACs bankrolled by corporations. Greenfield received $30,000 from PACs affiliated with senators Gary Peters (D., Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.)—groups that have accepted more than $1 million in corporate PAC contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Those donations have helped Greenfield bombard Iowa's airwaves with advertisements calling for campaign finance reform. Greenfield claimed in a June 19 ad that she does not take corporate PAC money, saying she does not "think politicians should put corporate interests ahead of you."

In addition to leadership PAC money, Greenfield has benefited from millions in corporate PAC money through outside groups supporting her bid to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst (R.). Senate Majority PAC, a Chuck Schumer-aligned group backed by corporations and liberal billionaires, has spent nearly $7 million on ads supporting Greenfield. When fellow Iowa Democrat Mike Franken criticized Greenfield for benefiting from ads funded by "lobbyists and corporate PACS and Bain Capital and businesses" as well as "dark money," Greenfield dismissed the attack as "Republican talking points." Schumer has pledged to spend at least $13.1 million in Iowa this year.

While many top 2020 Democratic challengers have renounced corporate PAC money in their bids to unseat Republican incumbents, the pledge is largely symbolic. Corporate PACs rarely contribute directly to candidates, instead funneling money to current lawmakers. Leadership PACs give Democratic candidates a workaround, allowing them to collect corporate money from an indirect source. Greenfield led all Democratic Senate challengers in leadership PAC funds as of December 2019, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Greenfield, who did not respond to a request for comment, has also accepted nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists. Among her top donors are Avenue Solutions' Amy Tejral and Forbes Tate Partners' Jeffrey Forbes. The pair combined to contribute more than $8,000 and have lobbied for the likes of Exxon Mobil, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Deutsche Telekom. Forbes, who served as chief of staff to former senator and Obama China ambassador Max Baucus, has received $17.6 million in pharmaceutical lobbying contracts to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Greenfield has refused to disassociate herself from outside groups—funded in part by corporate money and dark money—spending millions to boost her candidacy. In addition to the Senate Majority PAC, EMILY’s List has spent more than $2.5 million backing Greenfield. Ads funded by those contributions took center stage at a Democratic debate in May.

"You could just say, ‘Don’t do that,’ but you haven’t," debate moderator Dave Price said to Greenfield. "You could just say, ‘Please take those things off the air. They’re dirty and I don’t want any part of it.’"

"Dave, I don’t control those groups. I don’t even know who they are. I wouldn’t even know who to call," Greenfield responded. She repeatedly touted EMILY’s List’s endorsement in the closing days of the primary race.

Greenfield will take on Ernst in November after receiving nearly 48 percent of the vote in the June 2 primary.