The race for the Democratic nomination for governor has become mired in a flurry of complaints about alleged violations of state campaign finance laws.
The campaign of Gov. Bob Holden fired a shot Tuesday at gubernatorial challenger and State Auditor Claire McCaskill, announcing it intends to file a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission alleging McCaskill has received illegal donations worth more than $575,000 from her husband.
That complaint comes on the heels of two filed last week by two former Democratic state representatives who allege a letter soliciting money to support Holden’s campaign was a violation of campaign finance laws.
The Holden campaign alleges that “Friends of McCaskill received between $125,000 and $175,500 each reporting period since the second quarter of 2003 in the form of interest-free loans.”
“An examination of McCaskill’s previous assets indicates the only plausible source of these donations could be her husband,” nursing home operator and developer Joe Shepard said in a written statement from the Holden campaign.
The campaign argues that only the first $1,200 of Shepard’s contributions would be legal.
“The $574,211.39 in additional interest-free ‘loans’ from her husband is an illegal contribution subject to a fine and imprisonment,” the statement reads.
Whether McCaskill’s acceptance of loans from her husband would be illegal is difficult to tell. Chris Bauman, former legal counsel for Holden and now a St. Louis attorney in private practice, said “it’s an exceptionally complicated area of the law.”
Holden’s announcement came one week after Springfield attorney Sam Hamra wrote a letter urging Holden supporters to send money to Democratic Party committees as a way to avoid the cap on individual contributions. The letter was mailed to former state Rep. Douglas Harpool of Springfield and later forwarded to former state Rep. Brian May of St. Louis. Both filed complaints with the ethics commission.
“Many of us have given a lot more than the $2175 to Governor Bob Holden during the primary season. ... You can make unlimited amounts to the Greene County Democratic Committee or the Missouri Start (sic) Democratic Committee. They will forward these checks over to ‘Holden for Governor’ campaign which is perfectly legal and ethical.”
Hamra did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
Mike Reid of the Missouri Ethics Commission said he was unable to comment on Hamra’s letter. He said, however, that state law caps individual donations to candidates at $1,200 per election. Political parties may donate only $12,100.
Holden campaign spokesman Caleb Weaver said that when the campaign learned of Hamra’s letter, it responded immediately by sending him legal clarifications.
Weaver said the allegations in the complaints are “completely baseless.”
“Nothing ever happened. The letter that he sent was not illegal, because there was never an illegal transaction of money,” Weaver said, adding that “the real issue is that they don’t like that these Democratic committees are supporting the governor.”
May said state laws are designed to ensure people know who’s contributing to candidates. He said that if the ethics commission agrees Hamra’s letter was a violation, it should send a strong message that rerouting or redirecting donations shouldn’t be done.
Glen Campbell, spokesman for McCaskill for Governor, said Hamra’s letter raises serious questions. “I think there is a shadow being cast now. Now we have a letter that says give what you can, it’s legal and ethical, nod-nod wink-wink. We’ll make sure the governor knows.”
Jim LePage, also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, said he would be disappointed if the Holden campaign knowingly and willfully violated ethics law.
“I would be surprised if we don’t find some kind of gray area or shady deals somewhere along the line,” he said. “You know when you start waving 10 to 20 thousand dollars in front of a candidate, they’re gonna try and find a way to take it and worry about the law later.”