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ISU top lobbyist hired without search

November 28, 2012

IOWA CITY - The Iowa Board of Regents has hired the spokesman for a board member's private business as the top lobbyist for Iowa State University without publicly advertising the position, the board's executive director acknowledged this week.

Board executive director Robert Donley announced this month that Joe Murphy has been appointed as ISU's state relations officer to replace Ann McCarthy, who is moving into a new position overseeing the board's economic development initiatives.

Murphy spent the past year working as director of public affairs for Summit Group, an Ames-based company that grew out of Regent Bruce Rastetter's family farm and includes "investment and operating companies" in a range of agricultural sectors. Murphy acted as spokesman for Rastetter when the Republican Party powerbroker successfully fought a high-profile ethics complaint related to one of Summit's projects: a plan to team up with Iowa State to develop a huge farm in Tanzania.

Rastetter said Tuesday he wasn't involved in Murphy's appointment. ISU President Steven Leath recruited Murphy, and Donley made the hiring decision, he said. Rastetter noted that Murphy, 29, worked for three years as the lobbyist for University of Northern Iowa before he left last year to join Summit.

"I try not to stand in the way of employees looking for great opportunities. I think that one was for Joe," Rastetter said. "I didn't have anything to do with either the recommendation or them reaching out to him, and I think that's the appropriate way to do that."

ISU spokesman John McCarroll said someone suggested Leath consider Murphy, who came "highly recommended." But he said he didn't know who made the recommendation.

The appointment gives Rastetter, the board's No. 2 leader, a close relationship with a top aide as he shapes Iowa higher education policy. Rastetter leads the board's lobbying in Des Moines, and regents are asking for funding increases for the three public universities and a $40 million state financial aid program for low-income students. Murphy will be an important part of his outreach.

The Associated Press asked for records related to Murphy's appointment under Iowa's public records law. Board officials responded Monday that they did not have any, including a job advertisement, offer letter or correspondence. The board revealed Tuesday that Murphy's salary will be $110,000, up from the $78,000 he earned in the UNI job in 2011.

Instead, Donley issued a statement saying he alone decided not to conduct a search for the position because he needed to hire someone before the legislative session begins in January. The last time Donley filled a similar job - to replace Murphy after his departure last year from UNI - it was advertised in a public posting that noted the board is an equal opportunity employer that encourages women and minority applicants.



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