Reynolds toured Iowa on casino tycoon’s jet
DES MOINES (AP) — For her first trip across Iowa as governor, Republican Kim Reynolds sought and accepted the free use of a jet owned by a wealthy businessman who is lobbying for state approval to build a lucrative casino.
Reynolds and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg barnstormed the state last Friday, after Reynolds picked the attorney as her top deputy and running mate for the 2018 election. The “Building a Better Iowa” tour included stops in Gregg’s hometown of Hawarden and Mason City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.
In response to inquiries from The Associated Press, the governor’s office said the pair, a state trooper and staffers traveled in an airplane owned by businessman Gary Kirke, who donated the use of the plane and services of two pilots as in-kind contributions to Reynolds’ newly established gubernatorial campaign.
The arrangement, while apparently allowed under ethics rules, is drawing criticism from Reynolds’ opponents, highlighting Kirke’s cozy relationship with the administration and raising security questions.
Kirke, a millionaire casino magnate, has given $25,000 to Reynolds’ campaigns and $135,000 to her political mentor, former Gov. Terry Branstad. Kirke’s business partner, Michael Richards, was elevated last month to president of the Board of Regents, which governs Iowa’s three public universities.
Kirke and Richards are chairman and vice chairman of Wild Rose Entertainment, which owns casinos in Emmetsburg, Clinton and Jefferson. The company is in a high-stakes competition against a rival group for a state license to build the first casino in Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second-largest city. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission will decide later this year whether to grant a license.
Kirke said Reynolds’ 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’ press secretary Brenna Smith praised Kirke’s generosity. The tour was considered official state business, which means taxpayers could have paid for the travel. Conversely, Reynolds could have used her $1 million campaign fund to rent a plane.
Smith said Reynolds won’t take a position on a Cedar Rapids casino and will let the commission use its “independent judgment.”