Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Voucher proponents preparing for major push

Over a two-day period in April, lobbyist Travis Brown spent $2,872 entertaining and wining and dining some of the top pro-voucher politicians in the state of Missouri, including Governor Matt Blunt's chief of staff Ed Martin, Speaker Pro Tem (at the time) Carl Bearden, and St. Louis Democrats Theodore Hoskins and Rodney Hubbard.
Though the MIssouri Ethics Commission reports are not specific, they do indicate that Brown treated those politicians, as well as Rep. Kenny Jones, R-California, Rep. Dwight D. Scharnhorst, R-Manchester, Robert Knodell, an aide to Bearden, and Lucy LePage, an aide to Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, to baseball games on Saturday, April 14, and Sunday, April 15.
The St. Louis Cardinals played the National League Central Division-leading Milwaukee Brewers that weekend, according to the information provided on Brown's April disclosure report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Cardinal party suites cost $82 per ticket, according to the baseball team's website. On Sunday, April 15, all of the politicians received $164 in entertainment from Brown- the price of two tickets to the Cardinals' party suites.
In those suites, according to the team's website, Budweiser and Bud Light are served starting at 30 minutes before the ballgame and ending in the middle of the eighth inning, meals are catered, and the social area is "climate-controlled."
According to Brown's disclosure report, the only ones who did not receive $164 for entertainment, and $150 for "meals, food, and beverage," were the two assistants and Hubbard. Knodell received $82 for entertainment, apparently, the price of a game ticket, while Ms. LePage received $75 for meals, food and beverage. Hubbard was the top recipient of Brown's gifts, on April 15, receiving $328 for entertainment, and $300 for meals, food, and beverage.
While all of those listed above received Sunday, April 15, contributions, Brown's disclosure form indicates Bearden, Kenny Jones, and the two assistants were the only ones who attended Saturday's game.

All of the gifts came courtesy of the recently-created Missourians for a Better Economy. As I noted in the July 13 Turner Report, despite a lengthy list of clients, during March, April, and May, Brown appeared to be doing most of his lobbying for Missourians for a Better Economy and the Brown Lobby Firm, and from all appearances, both are operated by Brown.

Things became a bit more clear last week when it was announced that Bearden was leaving the House to work with Brown at Pelopidas LLC, a firm which will advocate for issues, with the issue at the top of the list being educational vouchers. On the same day that Brown filed paperwork with the Missouri Ethics Commission to represent Pelopidas, he also officially became the lobbyist for retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield, the principal force behind the Show-Me Institute, which has made vouchers its top priority.
In addition to Brown and Bearden, Pelopidas will be led by Brown's wife, lobbyist Rachel Keller Brown, whose sole client is Advocates for School Choice, a Phoenix, Ariz., organization that does exactly what its name says. Advocates for School Choice is the lobbying arm of the Alliance for School Choice, also based in Phoenix. Before becoming Governor Blunt's chief of staff, Ed Martin was Missouri coordinator for the Alliance for School Choice, as well as being treasurer for the voucher-supporting All Children Matter.

The odd combination of Democrats and Republicans that Brown has been wining and dining over the past few months, has almost exclusively been politicians who have favored educational vouchers and efforts to fund scholarships for students to attend private schools. Many of those politicians have also been the beneficiaries of Sinquefield's generosity, according to Ethics Commission records, including:

-Governor Matt Blunt, $100,000
-Rep. Talibdin El-Amin, D-St. Louis, $40,000
-Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, $40,000
-Rep. Rodney Hubbard, D-St. Louis, $30,000
-Rep. Ted Hoskins, D-St. Louis $10,000
-Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, $7,500
-Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, $500
-Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, $5,000 (only her aide received gifts from Brown, according to the Ethics Commission documents)

With the forming of Pelopidas, the growing effort by people such as David Humphreys and Ethelmae Humphreys of TAMKO, Charles Norval Sharpe of CNS Corporation, All Children Matter, and Sinquefield, who appear willing to pay whatever amount it takes to make educational vouchers a reality in Missouri, public schools are in for a battle in 2008.

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