- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 1, 2018

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s top elections official has amended his personal financial disclosure to list several businesses that were left off his earlier filing, despite having called reports about his undisclosed companies “fake news.”

The Associated Press reported last month that a company formed by Secretary of State Paul Pate days before the 2016 election has recently spent about $2 million purchasing a strip mall and developing a Cedar Rapids rental storage business. He didn’t name the company, PRG Group LLC, on a disclosure he signed April 11 that asked him to list each business in which he was engaged during 2017.

Pate amended his disclosure form Monday, which marked the April 30 deadline for submitting them for hundreds of state officials who are subject to the annual reporting requirement.

He disclosed that his businesses include the PRG Group, which owns the City Center strip mall in Hiawatha and the newly opened Noelridge Storage business in Cedar Rapids; PEP Group LLC, which owns Stoney Point Storage in Cedar Rapids; Pate Real Estate Holdings; and Pate Asphalt Systems. None of those were mentioned on his initial disclosure. Pate also changed his title from president to CEO of PM Systems Corp., a paving business he has long owned and that his amended filing called the “management group” for the others. He said that he had hired “full-time professionals” to run his companies while he’s in office.

The amended disclosure marks a change in tone for Pate, a Republican who had called AP’s story on April 17 “a false hit piece” that was intended to damage his chances for re-election in November. He had argued that he wasn’t required to identify his companies since he listed elsewhere on the form that he received rent from unspecified commercial and residential properties.

“Anyone who can read can see that I accurately recorded my filing!” Pate had written to supporters in an April 18 fundraising pitch, asking for donations to help “squelch this liberal fake news.”

In a statement Monday, Pate said he had decided to list “all of my business ventures” in the interest of transparency even though he doesn’t believe he was required to do so. He said that his amendment “goes well above and beyond those required of Iowa’s elected officials.”

The form, mandated by Iowa law, asks officials to “disclose each business, occupation, or profession in which you were engaged” in the previous year and the nature of each. Filing a false or fraudulent disclosure is a violation that could lead to civil or criminal penalties, but the ethics board doesn’t audit the reports and rarely takes enforcement action.

Megan Tooker, executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, said last month that it’s ultimately up to the five-member board to determine whether a disclosure is sufficiently detailed. But she said that she and board chairman James Albert agreed that Pate’s disclosure “was not out of the norm in its level of specificity” compared to those routinely filed by state officials without consequence, and that she wouldn’t treat Pate any differently “simply because I received a media inquiry.” Tooker said that she told Pate he could amend his statement but wouldn’t be required to do so “at this time.”

Tooker said Tuesday that she plans to give the board several examples of financial disclosure statements at its next meeting, and discuss whether to develop guidance to help officials be more specific next year.

“I think providing consistent advice and expectations to all filers well in advance of the next filing deadline would be welcomed and beneficial,” she said.

Democrats Jim Mowrer and Deidre DeJear are running in the June 5 primary for the party’s nomination to challenge Pate in November. Mowrer has questioned whether Pate’s businesses were distracting from his state job, noting that Pate had often called into or missed meetings of the Iowa Executive Council.

“Doing the right thing once you’re caught doesn’t show that you’re accountable or transparent,” Mowrer said Tuesday.

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