Candidates for state treasurer diverge on office’s role, goals

By: - August 10, 2022 6:31 pm

Democrat Michael Fitzgerald, right, will face off against former state Sen. Roby Smith in the November election. (Photo by Iowa Capital Dispatch. Money image from Getty Images.)

If elected as state treasurer, former Republican state Sen. Roby Smith would use the position to prevent federal overreach and ensure Iowa tax dollars don’t aid terrorist organizations, his campaign states. Democratic incumbent Michael Fitzgerald said he hopes to continue building on programs he implemented during his time as the longest-serving state treasurer in the nation.

Smith stated on his campaign page that the Biden administration is using “unconstitutional measures to snoop on everyday Americans.” If elected, he plans to protect the financial privacy of Iowans. Fitzgerald questioned this goal, saying the Internal Revenue Service has always had the power to investigate bank accounts with unusual activity. 

“He is running against Joe Biden… I don’t know anyone who has had that particular problem,” Fitzgerald said. “We are proud of what we do in the treasurer’s office, I can’t control what the U.S. Treasury does.” 

The Iowa Capital Dispatch has attempted to contact Smith since June 8. He has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.

Smith campaign says he’ll resist efforts to divest from Israel

Smith’s campaign also promises to prevent Iowa tax dollars from going toward countries that “harm Americans or support terrorism.” Smith opposes the  BSD (boycott/sanction/divestment) movement and would “reject any calls to break off economic ties between the state of Iowa and the people of Israel.”

Fitzgerald is keeping his focus on domestic issues. While overseeing the unclaimed property program, Fitzgerald has returned over $322 million in lost property back to property owners. 

“You know who I am when I run,” Fitzgerald said. “I have a triple-A plan. I tell people about my approach to government which is hiring a professional staff, doing more with less, being efficient and fiscally responsible.”

Although Smith’s website does not detail any plans for new programs, he said he would work to improve financial literacy in the state. He also said he plans to increase awareness of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, a federal program that allows families of individuals with disabilities to have a tax-free savings account currently administered by Fitzgerald.

With nearly 10 years of experience as a banker, Smith is also a small business owner while serving on the Quad Cities-area U.S. Bank board. Representing Davenport and Bettendorf Iowa in the Iowa Senate for 11 years, Smith championed his involvement with the recent income and retirement tax cuts passed by the Legislature. Smith also serves on the Scott Community College Foundation Board.

Fitzgerald works for college savings

Fitzgerald has served as the president of the National Association of State Treasurers. He is the administrator and creator of Iowa’s 529 College Saving Programs, which invests and distributes money to help families save for higher education costs free of federal and state taxes. Smith’s website says he would also work to raise awareness of this program.

“That is how I am helping Iowans deal with the tremendous cost of going to college,” Fitzgerald said. “I recognized this back in the late 1990s. I pushed for this program and it has been very popular and it continues to grow. I am proud of it, I started it and that is how we are helping send our Iowa kids to college.”

To promote the 529 Program Fitzgerald’s office hosted a contest in all 99 counties, giving out a $529 scholarship. In the last 16 years, the treasurer’s office lowered the cost of College Savings Iowa nine times with over $7 billion in savings across 280,000 accounts. 

“I have a passion for serving Iowans as their state treasurer and I will continue to promote fair government and safe financial strategies,” Fitzgerald said.

Campaign contributions 

Smith championed his record-breaking campaign fundraising. As of July, Smith’s campaign reported having $286,400 in the bank in comparison to Fitzgerald’s nearly $74,000. Smith has raised more money than any candidate for state treasurer in Iowa history, according to his campaign website

“If you are the state treasurer, you have to be looking out for the people who are depending on those funds for their retirement and also taking care of the state for the taxpayers to make sure it is invested and kept safe,” Fitzgerald said. “That is what I focus on, and I am not going to be playing favorites with big campaign contributors like the gambling industry.”

Smith received contributions from Elite Casino Resorts Political Action Committee (PAC), but the REALTORS PAC, the Associated Builder and Contractors Iowa PAC and Iowans for Tax Relief PAC.

“Our message of fiscal responsibility and financial accountability is resonating across Iowa,” Smith state according to his campaign website. “People from all over are opening their hearts and their pocketbooks to us, and blessing our campaign with their time, support, and their personal investment. I could not be more encouraged.”

Fitzgerald said he campaigns by traveling around the state talking to different groups such as the Lions Club or church organizations to inform constituents about what his office does and its various programs. 

Fitzgerald has not received any contributions from unions or PACS. He has collected $1,000 contributions from 14 individuals living out of state, including former President Barack Obama. Since the 2018 election, Fitzgerald has also compiled 40 contributions from Community Choice Credit Union, ranging from $10 to $26. The contribution’s from the credit union totaled over $650. 

“I am not sure you want someone beholden to all that big money if you are the state treasurer,” Fitzgerald said. “You know the state treasurer has to be a fiduciary, meaning looking out for Iowa’s, whether it is protecting their taxpayer money or protecting their IPERs.”

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Kate Kealey
Kate Kealey

Katherine Kealey is a senior majoring in journalism and political science at Iowa State University. Before interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch, she interned at the Carroll Times Herald. She served as the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily in 2022.