Columbia attorney Dan Viets has filed an ethics complaint alleging Mayor Brian Treece has violated state campaign finance laws.
Viets’ complaint presents two allegations against Treece: that he failed to file required paperwork before accepting donations for a 2022 mayoral campaign, and that he is illegally maintaining a campaign committee while he is a registered lobbyist.
Viets filed the complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission on Nov. 19, according to a copy of the complaint he provided to the Missourian.
“He’s clearly in violation of the law,” Viets said Wednesday. “The mayor is violating the state’s ethics laws in a way that clearly is designed to benefit him personally.”
In the first part of his complaint, Viets details Treece’s failure to file an amended statement of committee organization before accepting donations for a 2022 bid for a third term as mayor. Candidates must submit the amended statement before accepting any donations for a new election cycle, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission’s website.
Viets is asking that the Ethics Commission require Treece’s campaign committee to return the $13,950 in contributions it accepted between April 2, the day he was elected to a second term, and Sept. 5.
That total excludes $2,500 Treece raised during a campaign event the evening of Sept. 5 at the home of Otto and Stella Maly. Former Mayor Bob Pugh and developer Jeff Smith also served as hosts for that event. Treece filed an amended statement of committee organization on Sept. 5.
The second part of Viets’ complaint says Treece has remained a registered lobbyist since 1996 and throughout his tenure as mayor. A bill passed in 2016 requires that any person registering as a lobbyist must dissolve their candidate committee, Viets noted in his filing. It’s unclear how that law would apply to Treece, who was a lobbyist before he first sought public office.
At present, Treece is registered to represent three principals: the Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Teamsters, the Missouri State Orthopaedic Association, and TreecePhillips, LLC, which is the lobbying firm he established with his wife, Mary Phillips.
Viets contrasted his allegations against Treece with those against Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas, who faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to commit an act prohibited by a public official and is scheduled for a January jury trial.
Thomas has admitted to negotiating a quid pro quo deal to vote in favor of two developers’ rezoning and development plans in exchange for their donation to the Columbia Community Land Trust, which promotes affordable housing.
Thomas said Treece encouraged him to resign following those allegations. Viets said the mayor’s misdeeds are worse.
“(Thomas) would not have made a dime regardless of whether he broke the law or not,” Viets said.
Viets argued to the Ethics Commission that Treece should do one of three things, along with facing criminal prosecution or any penalty levied by the commission:
“Immediately terminate his candidate committee and disburse committee funds as provided for by statute, allowing him to retain his position as mayor, or resign his elected position as mayor and terminate his Treece for mayor committee, or terminate his position as a registered lobbyist in Missouri.”
The 2016 law requires that lobbyists who dissolve candidate committees disburse their campaign money by returning it to donors or contributing it to a not-for-profit group or to a political party committee.
Viets says that he had known that Treece was a lobbyist but that he waited to file the complaint because he only recently learned of the statute against lobbyists having campaign committees. He also suggested that the money Treece is raising might not go to a mayoral campaign at all.
“Frankly, I think that’s a little far-fetched,” he said. “He may have some other political ambitions, but I never heard of anybody in a Columbia mayor’s race starting to raise money three years before the election.”
Calls Wednesday afternoon to Treece and Chuck Graham, his campaign treasurer, were not returned.