The legislature is trickling lukewarm, watered-down ethics reform bills to Governor Nixon. Lukewarm they might be but at least something is at last running out of the legislative faucet on this issue. However, as they say in the Mother Country, “We are not impressed.”
And St. Louis Post-Dispatch capitol reporter Kevin McDermott reminded us why last weekend.
The two best-known Republican candidates to succeed Nixon are former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder. Behind them are Eric Greitens and John Brunner.
It seems there’s an outfit called Patriots for America. It works on behalf of Brunner. Note we do not say it works FOR Brunner. That would be illegal. Kevin, however, describes an interesting web of circumstance.
Patriots for America is a Super PAC and its main job is to attack Greitens. According to Kevin’s article, Brunner washes his hands of Patriots for America. Election laws say candidate campaigns can have no relationship and no coordination with Super PACs whose main job is to make a candidate’s opponent look like something your neighbor’s dog left in your yard while the candidate himself (or herself) can appear to be the good guy traveling the high road.
Kevin details in his article how Patriots for America has avoided revealing the source of the money it is using to do that. The Missouri Ethics Commission, which keeps track of campaign finance laws insofar as weak state laws let it do so, has no record of P4A. The Federal Elections Commission has a record of it but the organization evades federal campaign reporting laws by getting its money from a nonprofit corporation which does not have to report the source of its income.
But if nobody can follow the money, somebody can follow the lines of accountability. And he has done that.
P4A was established by a former Brunner campaign staffer, Andrew McLain, who claims no relationship to the Brunner campaign, which clears him to raise as much money as possible to attack Brunner’s opponent, apparently out of the goodness of his heart. The only donor McLain has listed on his federal reporting form is Franklin & Lee, a claimed nonprofit, that has put $84,000 into the P4A bank account.
Who are Franklin & Lee? Or what is F&L? It’s a shadowy thing that just happens to have the same mailing address McLain has. Kevin reports McLain has a second address. It’s the same address as P4A.
What a circumstance!
Kevin’s story also says P4A also has “apparent connections” with one Paul Holzer. Paul Holzer, as in Brunner’s former campaign chief of staff. And when “a reporter,” as Kevin put it in his story (reporters sometimes use that phrase to avoid saying “I” to avoid inserting ourselves into the story) called the P4A lawyer to ask to speak to someone on behalf of the organization, the lawyer’s office referred him to Holzer. The person answering Holzer’s phone said he wasn’t available and hung up.
The Missouri General Assembly has steadfastly refused to even consider any kind of improvements in Missouri’s campaign donation or campaign donations reporting system this year. Some members have even suggested it’s not even worth trying to do something because campaigns will always find loopholes. Odd, however, isn’t it, that all of the other states have at least tried. All of them.
In the meantime the legislature sends the governor a few cups of lukewarm ethical water, probably about the same temperature that candidates can use to wash their hands while former staffers—who have no connection at all to their campaigns—attack an opponent.
And in news conferences at the end of the session in a few weeks, majority legislative leaders will count ethics reform as a major accomplishment of a highly-successful session.