DES MOINES – The Iowa Democratic Party today called on Governor Branstad to begin an internal investigation into his administration’s approval of nearly $75,000 in travel costs during one fiscal year incurred by Economic Development Director Debi Durham.
“Iowa taxpayers deserve to know why Governor Branstad’s office approved Director Durham to travel in first-class style around the globe,” said IDP Executive Director Troy Price. “Unfortunately, even the Governor can’t answer the question surrounding these outrageous expenses. Governor Branstad should begin an immediate internal investigation to find out what happened and how it can be prevented in the future. Taxpayers deserve no less.”
During a press conference yesterday, Governor Branstad dismissed the reports as a “bunch of baloney.” When asked why the Director flew first class, Branstad initially said, “She has never gotten a first class ticket. That is a false accusation.”
However, on Thursday, WHO-TV released the results of an investigation that found Economic Development Director Debi Durham had incurred nearly $75,000 in travel expenses during her first full year on the job, including one trip to Europe to a conference that she never attended but did include first class air travel, lavish hotels, and a private tour of a convent. The next highest travel bill in one year for an Economic Development director was Mike Blouin who incurred $45,000 in travel costs.1 Durham’s travel expenses are in addition to the $30,000 a year in bonuses she receives, making her salary one of the highest for a state department director.2
These excesses come as questions still remain about the questionable deal with Egyptian-owned Orascom, who received over $100 million in state tax dollars to build a fertilizer plant in southeast Iowa. It was later revealed that Orascom was under investigation for fraud by the Federal government, a fact that state economic development officials did not even know when the grant was awarded.3
“Once again, we are seeing another failure of Governor Branstad’s efforts to privatize our state’s economic development efforts,” said Price. “Leadership is taking responsibility when you make a mistake. It’s time for Governor Branstad to show some leadership and find out what happened so that this never happens again. If he doesn’t, then all we are getting from the Governor’s Office is the same old political baloney.”