Delay in regent’s $5M gift to Iowa football raises questions

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The president of the governing body for Iowa’s public universities has long used his $5 million pledge to the Hawkeye football program to build his image as a successful businessman and philanthropist.

But years after his 2008 commitment was touted at a news conference as the largest gift to Iowa athletics, Bruce Rastetter has given less than a third of that amount, a review by The Associated Press shows. Another donor who promised $5 million the same day completed his pledge two years ago, and the football training complex they were supporting has been open for about 18 months.

Rastetter is seeking re-election next week as president of the Iowa Board of Regents, which governs the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

His handling of the donation contradicts public statements claiming he’s given $5 million, which he’s used to tamp down criticism that his policies have hurt the university. And it raises questions about whether the delay was part of the pressure he put on former university President Sally Mason.

“Now we learn he doesn’t live up to his charitable contribution commitments or his giving comes with strings attached,” said university alumnus David Wheeler, a frequent Rastetter critic.

Rastetter gave his first payment of $500,000 in 2012 but then nothing for three years during the rest of Mason’s presidency. Rastetter and other regents had at times been critical of Mason and pushed for a leadership change.

Once Mason announced plans to step down last year, Rastetter again opened his pocketbook for the project. He has given $1 million in five gifts over the last year, bringing his donations to $1.5 million, according to the UI Foundation.

Despite the recent barrage of payments, Rastetter’s donations have fallen short of repeated published accounts claiming he has given the full $5 million.

Foundation spokeswoman Dana Larson said that Rastetter, who made millions in the ethanol and pork production industries, was continuing to donate and that the university was grateful for his support. She said it’s not unusual for donors to make gifts over periods of time. The organization refused to release documents related to his pledge, saying they can be kept confidential under Iowa law.

Rastetter declined comment. “Regent Rastetter doesn’t want to discuss his personal giving,” board spokesman Josh Lehman said.

In announcing the $5 million pledge in 2008, Rastetter said he wanted to “give back to those that have helped me and so many others.”

“I am excited to help ensure the program continues to grow and has first-class facilities in order to compete with any other program in the nation,” he said.

A top campaign donor to Gov. Terry Branstad and a major Republican backer in national politics, he has been president since 2013.

Critics have accused Rastetter of favoring the state’s other two universities over the University of Iowa, particularly when he pushed a plan that would have diverted millions in state funding away from the school. They have also said he treated Mason unfairly and botched the search for her replacement, which ended with the surprise hiring of businessman Bruce Harreld.

Rastetter has responded to criticism by citing his donation to Iowa, where he earned a political science degree.

“I am an Iowa grad, I have given $5 million to the University of Iowa, and I want to see the place succeed,” Rastetter told the Des Moines Business Record last fall.

Rastetter and a business colleague, Dick Jacobson, each pledged $5 million in 2008. The commitments were touted by coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta as visionary, the first in a fundraising campaign for a $55 million state-of-the-art football complex that would help recruit and develop players.

The complex opened in fall 2014 and was credited with helping Iowa reach its first Rose Bowl in 25 years this past season. Jacobson, who died earlier this month, completed his $5 million gift in 2014. The regents named part of the complex for him two years ago.

The financial implications, if any, are hard to measure. The foundation has received $36.6 million in pledges for the project. In 2013, UI officials took out a $30 million, 10-year bank loan to pay for construction, which will be paid off with donations and revenues.