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Top Iowa aide to Steyer's campaign resigns after AP report

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, left, addresses an environmental justice forum. Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Orangeburg, S.C.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A top Iowa aide to businessman Tom Steyer resigned Friday, a day after The Associated Press revealed he had privately offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing Steyer's White House bid.

Steyer's Democratic presidential campaign announced the resignation of Pat Murphy, a former House speaker who served as a top adviser on Steyer's Iowa campaign.

"After the conclusion of an investigation alleging improper communications with elected officials in Iowa, Pat Murphy has offered his resignation from the campaign effective immediately," Steyer's campaign manager Heather Hargreaves wrote in a statement. "Our campaign policy is clear that we will not engage in this kind of activity, or any kind of communication that could be perceived as improper. Violation of this policy is not tolerated.

In a statement Thursday, Murphy apologized for but did not deny the interactions and said the concerns expressed by his former colleagues about his overtures were the result of a "miscommunication." He didn't immediately respond to messages from the AP seeking comment Friday.

The overtures from Murphy weren't illegal — though payments for endorsements would violate campaign finance laws if not disclosed. There's no evidence that any Iowans accepted the offer or received contributions from Steyer's campaign as compensation for their backing.

Murphy's departure leaves Steyer without an Iowa political director with less than three months until the state's lead-off caucuses. The businessman remains mired at the bottom of the polls.

Steyer said Thursday that he first learned about the allegations while driving to an event in South Carolina that day and that no payments had gone to officials in Iowa.

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Tom Courtney, a former Democratic state senator from southeastern Iowa who's running for reelection to his old seat, had told the AP that the financial offer "left a bad taste in my mouth."

Several other local politicians said they received similar propositions from Murphy. Most spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue freely. Iowa state Rep. Karin Derry said Murphy didn't explicitly offer a specific dollar amount, but made it clear Derry would receive financial support if she backed Steyer.

"It was presented more as, he has provided financial support to other down-ballot candidates who've endorsed him, and could do the same for you," she said.

Courtney described a similar interaction with Steyer's campaign.

"Tom, I know you're running for Senate. I'm working for Tom Steyer," Courtney recalled hearing from the aide. "Now you know how this works. ... He said, 'You help them, and they'll help you.'"

"I said, 'It wouldn't matter if you're talking monetary, there's no amount,'" Courtney continued. "I don't do that kind of thing."

Murphy is the second Steyer aide to resign this week. His deputy South Carolina state director resigned Monday after accessing volunteer data from California Sen. Kamala Harris' campaign.

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