JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's top Republican Senate challengers love to emphasize their differences with Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. As it turns out, they share something in common with her. They all have paid penalties for late taxes.
Businessman John Brunner, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman all incurred late fees for property taxes on their vehicles or real estate in recent years, and Brunner's business also missed tax deadlines, according to documents reviewed online or obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
The amount owed by the Republican candidates generally was less than the roughly $320,000 McCaskill paid last year in overdue taxes, interest and penalties on an airplane she had used for official and political travel. But the tax tardiness of the GOP candidates nonetheless puts a dent in one of the criticisms that Republicans could level against McCaskill in the November election.
Steelman, Brunner and Akin are competing in an Aug. 7 primary. The winner will become the Republican nominee in one of the nation's most fiercely contested Senate races as the GOP attempts to take control of the chamber from Democrats.
Records show that Brunner paid nearly $117 in interest and penalties for late property tax payments in 2007 and 2008 on his family's vehicles, which included a Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Ford and Chevrolet. Brunner's campaign acknowledged that he also missed the filing deadline for taxes on his family home in 2000 and 2001.
Records also show that Vi-Jon — the personal health care products company for which Brunner was CEO — paid nearly $700 in interest and penalties for late property taxes on an airplane in 2006. Vi-Jon also paid $1,266 for late property taxes, interest, penalties and attorney fees after being sued by a St. Louis collector for delinquent property taxes in 2003. The company paid nearly $4,200 in taxes and interest after the state placed a lien on it for 2004 use taxes, but records show the state later determined Vi-Jon owed no use taxes and asked the court to expunge the lien. Tennessee records from 2009 show that Vi-Jon paid $20 after being delinquent on its state taxes or fees.
"As a responsible citizen and taxpayer, John Brunner immediately paid all taxes, interest and penalties in full as soon as the oversights were recognized," Brunner spokesman Todd Abrajano said in written statement. But in light of the nation's economy, "late property tax payments are certainly not a central issue of this campaign for Missourians," he added.
Brunner's campaign noted that Akin and Steelman also had late tax payments.
Online records show that Steelman paid $72 in late fees for her 2010 property taxes on a 4-acre plot of land and her family's vehicles, which included an Infiniti, Jeep and Dodge.
"Yes, I was a little late on paying the tax and as a result had a small additional fee," Steelman said. "I accept full responsibility for the oversight — the error was mine."
Online records show that Akin paid $7 of interest and penalties when he was 12 days late in paying his 2004 personal property taxes on vehicles that included a Honda, Ford and Chevrolet. He also was late on a $1.64 tax payment on a plot of land in 2010. And the Akin Family Partnership was late on a 2003 property tax payment, although Akin's campaign said the congressman did not handle the finances for the family trust.
"These all seem to be very small amounts," Akin campaign spokesman Ryan Hite said. "Whether it was forgotten on their end, or there was a paperwork mix-up, or something didn't make it to their box, it was all taken care of and resolved."
In addition to McCaskill's late payment on airplane property taxes, she also received attention earlier this year for paying several hundred dollars of interest and penalties for late property taxes on a Washington, D.C., condominium. The Republican Party has used both instances to criticize McCaskill, claiming the late payments undercut her image as a former auditor who remains a government watchdog.
"Claire knows that mistakes can be embarrassing. But Claire also understands that true leadership is taking accountability for honest mistakes and fixing them, not finding someone else to blame," McCaskill campaign spokesman Caitlin Legacki said.