IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A Republican power couple who work in Iowa's executive branch are facing scrutiny after moonlighting as agents of Saudi Arabia to oppose a new law allowing victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to sue the kingdom.
Connie and Kim Schmett are accused of being part of a campaign that misled veterans by concealing who was funding their advocacy work, which Connie Schmett failed to list on a recent disclosure filing for Iowa government officials.
The Schmetts, longtime GOP activists, registered last year as foreign agents to campaign on behalf of Saudi Arabia's interests against the law that helps an ongoing civil lawsuit brought by victims of the 2011 terrorist attacks over the kingdom's alleged support for the hijackers.
Disclosure filings show their consulting firm, Schmett & Associates, received $101,500 under the Saudi-funded campaign in which they recruited veterans to warn Congress that it would have unintended consequences for those serving overseas.
Air Force veteran Dustin DeMoss said Connie Schmett recruited him to take a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., without telling him the funding source. When he later discovered her registration as an agent of Saudi Arabia and confronted her on Facebook, Connie Schmett told him to keep that information quiet.
"PLEASE don't share it. I'll be in BIG trouble," she wrote DeMoss in February.
Connie Schmett denied misleading any veterans or trying to hide her foreign agent status, saying her message to DeMoss was only meant to encourage him not to discuss the work on Facebook. She told The Associated Press it was "an oversight on my part" that she recently failed to disclose her consulting on a required personal financial disclosure for Iowa executive branch officials.
"I did what I did because I felt our veterans needed their voices needed to be heard — not to gain money, not to gain fame," she said. "This is our business. This is what we do."
The Schmetts' role as agents of Saudi Arabia was first reported by 28Pages.org, which noted they were among dozens to profit from the work. It lasted from October 2016 through March.
Both Schmetts, who live in suburban Des Moines, received state government appointments from former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and are regulars at the Westside Conservative Club, a group known for hosting presidential candidates. Their firm focuses on federal policy.
Connie Schmett, 71, is on the powerful Health Facilities Council, which evaluates plans for new hospitals and nursing homes. Kim Schmett, 64, is chairman of the Employment Appeal Board, an $80,000-per year judicial position in which he rules on disputes involving unemployment benefits and other matters. He ran for Congress in 2008.
Kim Schmett informed Gov. Kim Reynolds' staff recently that he "believed he and his wife complied with all applicable rules and regulations regarding registration and disclosure," press secretary Brenna Smith said.
He said judicial rules restricting lobbying and political involvement don't apply to work as a foreign agent. "It's not even discussed" in Iowa code, he said.
Unlike her husband, Connie Schmett omitted her role with Schmett & Associates on the disclosure she submitted in April, which covered calendar year 2016. Asked whether she had any outside "business, occupation, or profession" or sources of income over $1,000, she checked boxes that said no.
Yet she was consulting on the Saudi Arabia-funded campaign during that time.
The Schmetts registered as foreign agents in October 2016, saying they would conduct "outreach to media influencers, and state and federal elected officials" to oppose the law. Qorvis MSLGROUP, a firm that represents Saudi Arabia, reported paying Schmett & Associates $101,500 for communications services.
Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure board director Megan Tooker said Thursday she is looking into the couple's work as foreign agents, which is the first time such an issue has come up in recent memory but appears to be allowed. She said Connie Schmett's disclosure will likely have to be amended to list her consulting and that she may be asked to retroactively file a disclosure for 2014, which never occurred after she joined the Health Facilities Council due to an apparent oversight.
Connie Schmett recruited DeMoss to the campaign last December, asking him to send letters to lawmakers and travel to Washington the following month. DeMoss, of Jenks, Oklahoma, said she seemed genuinely concerned about veterans, and he agreed to take the free four-day trip. He caught wind of the sponsor only after he was there.
"Once I got to thinking about it, it really bothered me," he said. "What she did was wrong."