Questionable campaign financing for Slay’s school state
Recent campaign finance reports disclose further continuity with the current board majority. The same questionable campaign financing techniques that bankrolled former Mayor Vince Schoemehl and three colleagues two years ago are back this year. The Missouri Ethics Commission wouldn’t hold the slate’s powerful backers accountable then, and they will probably take another powder this year.
But that doesn’t prevent the public from knowing about it or considering the behavior in deciding to whom to entrust the city’s educational system. Let me help shed some light where none is desired.
The campaign finance law that is being flouted limits individuals, corporations and most committees to no more than $1,200 per candidate per election. The committee raising and spending the big bucks calls itself People Working for Excellence in Public Education (“PeWEPE”), whose Statement of Organization with the Missouri Ethics Commission was filed nearly three weeks late. Its listed address is the office of Vigilant Communications, whose clients include the mayor himself. PeWEPE is legally entitled to contribute only $1,200 to each candidate it supports, and that includes “in kind” contributions. It can also spend as much as it wants on “direct expenditures” (better known by its federal equivalent, “independent expenditures”), and that’s what PeWEPE and its important supporters pretend that its expenditures are.
What’s the difference? Direct payment of a candidate’s campaign expenses are considered “in kind” contributions (and subject to the $1,200 per candidate limit) if they are made with the candidate’s “consent, cooperation, influence or control.” Expenditures are considered independent “direct” expenditures (not subject to the limits) only if none of those factors are present.
That’s where big-shot power brokers play it fast and loose with the facts. In a report filed this week (two days late), PeWEPE listed nearly $34,000 in expenditures, but didn’t disclose a penny as either a contribution to a candidate (in-kind or otherwise) or as a direct expenditure (for which a separate schedule identifying the blessed candidates is required). The expenditures included over $1,000 for photography and photo sessions and over $20,000 for design, printing, postage and mailing of campaign literature.
PeWEPE’s brochures include individual posed photographs of all three candidates. One of the brochures also includes another posed photograph of all three candidates together, posing with nine well-groomed, nicely dressed children. How did PeWEPE get these photographs for the brochure without the consent, cooperation or coordination of the candidates? The photos were an integral part of well designed full-color four-page brochures stating that they were paid for by PeWEPE that were mailed to thousands of city voters. Are we really supposed to believe that these candidates adjusted their personal schedules to pose together for the photos along with the nine kids (the report lists exactly nine separate $100 payments to named individuals for “photo sessions”), apparently for committee-paid professional photographer Wiley Price, without knowing that the photo shoot was for the campaign? No consent, cooperation or coordination? Really?
Pardon my “French,” but INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES MY ASS!
One of the establishment slate candidates may have some additional campaign finance problems. Keaveny, the Democratic committeeman in Vince Schoemehl’s home ward, is treasurer of the Democratic City Central Committee (officially named the Democratic Campaign Committee of St. Louis City). Thirty-one Democratic candidates filed for ballot access in the March 8 primary, paying filing fees (ranging from $322 to $1,161.42 each) between November 16 and January 7. Filing fees for these offices are all considered contributions to that Democratic committee, and Keaveny is personally responsible for filing its campaign reports. Filing fees received before November 28 (about half of them) should have been reported on a report due December 2, and the others would have been reportable on reports due either February 24 or February 28. Keaveny’s December 2 report didn’t report any filing fees, and he didn’t file his next report until March 28. To make it look like the contributions were reported on time, he listed them as not having been received until January 24. That was more than two weeks after the filing deadline, and just happened to be the first business day after the close of the reporting period for the primary election’s 40-day report. And if that date truly represented when he actually received the funds, one should question why he left committee funds undeposited with the Election Board for up to two months.
In addition, filing fees for mayoral candidate Irene Smith and eight aldermanic candidates weren’t listed at all. Of course it is entirely possible that the unreported fees could have been deposited in the committee’s federal account instead of its state account if the donors were eligible to make federal contributions, in which case they would appear instead in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. However, no filing fees were reported in the committee’s federal reports covering periods ending before year-end. The report covering sums received after January 1 isn’t due until July.
One of Keaveny’s defenders suggested last week in the Arch City Chronicle blog that only election-related expenditures, not contributions, triggered the report filing requirement. Even if that strained statutory interpretation were adopted, the latest state report demonstrated its own lateness by reporting February disbursements to Slay’s 23rd Ward organization (why else but for the primary contests of Slay and challenged aldermanic ally Kathy Hanrahan?) as well as over $1,000 in printing costs.
Even if the Missouri Ethics Commission turns its usual blind eye to infractions by powerful people, city voters should ask themselves whether they really want to entrust the management of their schools to (or set up as role models) candidates who cheat in the conduct of their elections, dutifully follow orders from their puppetmasters’ PR people, bully their way around legal requirements in the same “Might Makes Right” mode that has eroded public confidence in the current board majority, and in one case, demonstrates inability to account for funds in his trust. The size of the campaign war chest suggests that once again, Might will once again substitute itself for what is Right.