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Iowa governor defends private jet use; may do it again

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday defended her use of a jet owned by a wealthy businessman who is lobbying the state for approval to build a casino.

The new Republican governor told reporters that asking Gary Kirke for use of his private airplane is allowable under Iowa ethics rules. She indicated she could seek such air travel, which she described as rare, in the future.

“We’ll look at it on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “But it’s our intention to do like we normally do … to drive around the state and visit all 99 counties. So that’s the preferred method.”

The Associated Press reported last week that Reynolds and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg used Kirke’s plane on May 26 to fly across Iowa as part of their new “Building a Better Iowa” tour. It included stops in Hawarden, Mason City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.

The setup appears legal under Iowa’s laws and rules regarding the use of campaign contributions for outreach to constituents. Kirke donated use of the 1998 Cessna Citation V Ultra and the services of two pilots as in-kind contributions to Reynolds’ newly established gubernatorial campaign.

Kirke and his business partner, Michael Richards, are chairman and vice chairman of Wild Rose Entertainment, which owns casinos in Emmetsburg, Clinton and Jefferson. The company is competing with another group for a state license to build a casino in Cedar Rapids.

Kirke said the governor’s staff called to ask if she could use his plane for the tour and, “I was honored to be asked and happy to help.”

Reynolds said the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which will decide this year whether to grant a license, is independent from her office and she has never weighed in on the issue and doesn’t plan to. Reynolds will make at least two appointments next year to the five-member commission, which also regulates Kirke’s other casinos.

Richards was elevated last month to be president of the Board of Regents, which governs Iowa’s three public universities. Both Richards and Kirke are on a committee that will hold a private fundraiser for Reynolds on June 13. The fundraiser, with tickets at $100 per person, was first reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

The event will be held at the West Des Moines home of Chuck Larson, a consultant for Wild Rose.

Reynolds defended that people linked to the casino were organizing the fundraiser by alluding to her future gubernatorial plans.

“Just as the Democratic candidates will be laying the groundwork for a 2018 run, I am doing the same thing and we will have house parties all over the state of Iowa,” she said.

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