Missouri House aide runs political consulting firm

Thursday, April 16, 2009 | 3:45 p.m. CDT; updated 4:26 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 16, 2009

KANSAS CITY — A top aide to Missouri House Speaker Ron Richard generated almost $500,000 last year through his side business as a political consultant, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Kansas City Star said Tom Smith runs Survey St. Louis, which provides direct mail services for political campaigns as well as other services, such as polling.

Smith's job as legislative director gives him influence with House leaders who decide which bills get heard. The 34-year-old Smith is a state employee and has worked for the House's Republican leadership for five years. He began serving Richard this year at an annual salary of $64,000.

Richard, R-Joplin, said he doesn't have a problem with Smith's side job as long as he doesn't work on campaigns during the legislative session.

Records filed by candidate committees with the Missouri ethics commission show Smith helped about two dozen clients last year. Most of their payments to Smith came during the months after the legislature adjourned in May, records show.

But at least three payments were made in January and February of last year, including $6,854 for printing and surveys on behalf of Republican Mike Gibbons on Feb. 16. Gibbons was the Missouri Senate's president pro tem at the time and a candidate for attorney general.

Smith said he couldn't remember when the work was actually completed.

"I have a staff that runs the office day to day," he said. "I do nothing in the way of the business from January to May (when the Legislature is in session)."

Smith said he started Survey St. Louis is 2000 and has three full-time employees, as well as several part-time workers. He said he made $27,000 from the venture last year, before taxes and after expenses.

Several Republican lawmakers, including nonclients, said they didn't see a problem with Smith's second job. They said they had never been told their legislation would have an easier fate if they did business with Smith's company.

"I personally don't feel any obligation to go through him," said state Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who paid Survey St. Louis $3,544 in November for polling work.

Democrats, however, said it is a conflict and should be stopped.

"It smells," said state Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette. "It reinforces my baseline conviction that all these sorts of arrangements should be banned regardless of political party. ... People have a right not to have to worry whether wrongdoing is occurring or not."

Smith denied any ethical problems and said Missouri law doesn't prohibit his outside political work.

"I think it's absurd that someone could buy 1,000 pieces (of mail) and somehow have a level of influence," Smith said.

Missouri State University political scientist George Connor drew comparisons to last year's controversy about then-House Speaker Rod Jetton doing consulting work for fellow lawmakers.

"I cannot imagine how this doesn't look wrong," Connor said.

Cross-party criticism over improper relationships between lawmakers and their private businesses isn't new. But those concerns have become heightened against the backdrop of a reported FBI investigations into alleged "pay for play" schemes in the legislature where political favors are being traded for campaign donations.

The FBI hasn't confirmed or denied the investigation, and there's no indication investigators are looking at Smith's business.


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