Regent: U Iowa contracts with GOP insider should've been bid

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The University of Iowa shouldn't have awarded a series of contracts to a prominent Republican Party consultant without opening them to competition, the president of its governing board says.

Iowa Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter told Iowa Public Radio on Tuesday that he was unaware of the school's no-bid contracts with former Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn until he read a recent Associated Press story detailing them. He said he believes that Strawn is capable but "the optics of this are not pretty or perfect."

"I believe that in those situations the universities should do a bid process. We'll be talking about that," Rastetter said during an interview on IPR's River to River program ( ).

Rastetter said the board would also review a policy that allows universities to award contracts worth less than $25,000 without obtaining quotes from multiple vendors. He said that has been an issue at all three of Iowa's public universities and expects the board will adopt specific policy changes in April.

The board does not plan to investigate how Strawn's contracts were awarded, spokesman Josh Lehman said Wednesday.

The AP reported last week that Strawn's company received $322,000 in university contracts over the last 2½ years for social media consulting and polling services that were often delivered by subcontractors with GOP ties of their own.

Strawn's initial contract for social media and grassroots advocacy was for $24,900, or just below the $25,000 threshold that triggers competitive bidding. Much of that work was performed through Wholecrowd, a Washington-based digital media startup founded by former Iowa GOP executive director Jim Anderson. Strawn and Anderson touted Wholecrowd's work for UI at a 2013 Republican Party conference on technology in Michigan.

Around that same time, the university waived competitive bidding requirements to award Strawn larger polling contracts by saying his firm was the only one that could provide that service. But Strawn subcontracted with a prominent Texas-based Republican pollster, Chris Perkins.

Perkins' firm also has conducted focus groups for the university under Strawn's contracts, which are managed by UI vice president for external relations Peter Matthes, a former staff director of the Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate.

Iowans Defending Our Universities, a group that has been critical of the regents and new UI President Bruce Harreld, issued a statement Wednesday calling for Matthes to be fired for his role in the contracts.

A university spokeswoman said the contracts went through the normal review process when awarded. The university has refused to release any details about the polls or their findings, citing an exemption to the open records law for reports that would help its competitors "and serve no public purpose."

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