Monday, December 22, 2008

Blunt team attempting to reshape history

Just as we are seeing on the national level with President Bush, Gov. Matt Blunt and those who surround him are attempting to rewrite history as their days in control approach the end.

One example has been their response to Governor-elect Jay Nixon's announcement that he will open license fee offices to competitive bidding right from the beginning of his term. Immediately after Nixon outlined his plan, Gov. Blunt issued a news release noting that he had already put up offices for competitive bids.

In today's Springfield News-Leader, the governor's chief of staff Trish Vincent responds to the News-Leader's praise of Nixon's plan:

In an act of cheap partisanship, the newspaper attempted to tie the governor's office to a discredited conspiracy theory about an "FBI probe." This is beyond ridiculous. Governor Blunt was never the subject of an investigation and no charges were ever filed against anybody, anywhere. If the News-Leader is truly interested in FBI probes they ought to Google "Spitzer" and "Blagojevich."

The editorial also fails to give Gov. Blunt the appropriate credit for being the first governor to open contract offices to a competitive bidding process. Even the liberal Kansas City Star gave him credit in an Oct. 2, 2008, editorial stating: "In a positive change, Blunt has begun bidding out contracts for fee offices as they become available."

The competitive Contract Office Bid process was initiated by Gov. Blunt in December 2006 and has led to 12 contracts awarded or pending through the open bid process, helping to improve customer service and cut costs. Competitive awards have been announced or are pending in: West County, Harrisonville, Potosi, Richmond, Memphis, Steelville, Vandalia, Savannah, Elsberry, Branson, Mountain Grove and New London.

It is going to be a relief not to have to put up with any more of the never ending self-serving news releases that have been issued by Gov. Blunt and his aides. Ms. Vincent can whine all she wants to do about "discredited conspiracy theories," and brag about the the governor's decision, made late in his term, to open bidding for license fee offices, but she can't change the sordid way the governor began his term.

Under Blunt's stewardship, the awarding of license fee office contracts, which has always been used as a method of rewarding friends and contributors, became something much more; it was a concerted effort to rake in hundreds of thousands for people close to the governor who set up corporations to operate the offices for those who were chosen to receive the contracts.

In a May 13, 2007, post, I outlined the depth of the fee office scandal (and yes, you can definitely have a scandal even if, as Blunt and his supporters claim, everything was done legally. Legal does not always translate to ethical.) If anything indicates there were serious problems with the license fee offices, it was the governor's decision to publicly back Sandra Thomas for state auditor despite the presence of three elected GOP officials in the primary. Of course, the state auditor would be the one who would be examining the books for the license fee offices. This is what I wrote:

As questions begin to emerge about the extent the fee office investigation played in the firing of U. S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas (and perhaps Todd Graves of Missouri), little attention has been paid to the attempts made by Governor Matt Blunt and Congressman Graves to end examination of the fee office contracts in this state.

Despite the candidacies of such GOP stalwarts as Sen. John Loudon, Rep. Jack Jackson, and Rep. Mark Wright, Blunt and Graves threw their support and considerable money to little-known Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas.

The treasurer of Mrs. Thomas' campaign was CPA Nick Myers...who also happened to be the license fee contract agent for Joplin. The campaign was placed in the hands of Sam Graves' former chief of staff (and political attack dog) Jeff Roe and his firm Axiom Strategies.

As The Turner Report first revealed in a July 29, 2006, post, Axiom Strategies was set up by Lathrop & Gage attorney Jamison Shipman, who also set up the management companies to operate license fee offices for the contract agents.

In the last month of the primary campaign, Mrs. Thomas' contributors included Todd Graves $1,000, the 32nd Senatorial District Committee (whose deputy treasurer Victoria Myers is Nick Myers' daughter) $10,000, lobbyist and first brother Andrew Blunt $500, Election Day Enterprises (run by former State Rep. Jewell Patek, who also set up management companies for license fee offices) $1,275 and the biggest $12,750 from the Sixth District Congressional Committee, which is controlled by Sam Graves.

The connections between Mrs. Thomas and the fee office scandal grew as the campaign continued. In the Oct. 16, 2006, Turner Report, I noted:

Three maximum $1,275 contributions to Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas' campaign for state auditor came from contract agents running state license fee offices, according to her October quarterly report, filed today with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Ms. Thomas received the maximum amount from David Jerome, Neosho, Matt Gerstler, St. Joseph, and the Nodler Leadership PAC, which is operated by its treasurer, Joplin CPA Nick Myers, who runs the Joplin contract office. The Nodler Leadership PAC reported contributing $1,275 to her primary campaign two weeks after the primary ended and an additional $1,275 the following month. (It should be noted that Myers, along with Blunt Highway Commission appointee Rudy Farber and Empire District Electic's William Gipson, controls the Nodler Leadership Fund, which is now called the Southwest Missouri Leadership Fund.)
Myers, of course, also serves as Ms. Thomas' campaign treasurer, and has already contributed $1,275 personally, and $1,275 from his CPA business.
The revenue fee office agents' contributions are not the only conflict of interest evident on Ms. Thomas' disclosure form. She also received a $500 contribution from Gene McNary, St. Louis, who was recently appointed by Governor Matt Blunt to head the Missouri Gaming Commission, which is a state agency which must be audited.

Having shepherded Mrs. Thomas successfully through the primaries, all Blunt and Graves had left was to defeat Democratic nominee Susan Montee in the general election and no expense was spared in that effort.

The Turner Report continued to expose the money trail to Blunt, Graves, and the license fee contract agents during an Oct. 30 post:

On Oct. 25, Ms. Thomas received a maximum contribution, $1,275, from Election Day Enterprises, the political consulting firm run by lobbyist and former state representative Jewell Patek. Print reports have indicated Patek was smack in the middle of the license fee office scandal that led to a federal investigation earlier this year. The lobbyist was pushing Highridge Services, a management firm, to operate the lucrative fee offices.

I also noted:

Blunt himself contributed $500 on Oct. 20, one week to the day after three of Blunt's clients contributed to Ms. Thomas' campaign. AT&T Missouri Employee PAC donated $1,200, Burlington Northern Railway $500, and Missouri Hospital Association PAC $500. It was noted on the final page of the report that Burlington Northern Railway often does business with the Missouri Department of Transportation, another department that Ms. Thomas will be required to audit if she is elected.

The largest contribution to Ms. Thomas' campaign is the most disturbing one. She received $10,000 Oct. 25 from the 32nd Senatorial District Committee out of Carthage...a committee which 10 days earlier had only $867.46 in its bank account, according to the October quarterly report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Unfortunately, the 32nd District Committee, whose deputy treasurer is Victoria Myers, daughter of Ms. Thomas' campaign treasurer Nick Myers, will not have to file its next report until more than two months after the election is over, so there is no way of knowing just where this money originated.

The Turner Report noted more of those large contribution mysteries in a Nov. 6 post:

As I have noted before, it is almost impossible to tell who is really funding Sandra Thomas' campaign. The 12th Senatorial District Committee, which contributed $12,250 today, only had $950 in its account one week ago, and it likely will not have to file any documents indicating where its financial windfall came until 30 days after the election.
The treasurer for the 34th Senatorial District Committee is Matt Gerstner, who operates the lucrative St. Joseph fee office, which would presumably be under Ms. Thomas' jurisdiction if she were elected. As revealed earlier in The Turner Report, Gerstler has already personally contributed to Ms. Thomas' campaign.
The laundry operation extends to the $12,750 contribution from the 35th Republican Legislative District Committee. That committee was down to its last $50 one week ago, but received a massive infusion of $31,900 Nov. 1 and 2 from the Sixth Congressional District Committee. The Sixth Congressional District, of course, is home for Congressman Sam Graves, who has been pushing Ms. Thomas, and whose former chief of staff, Jeff Roe, runs Axiom Strategies, the consulting firm which has managed the Platte County auditor's campaign.
The 17th Republican Senatorial District Committee had absolutely no money in its accounts on Sept. 30, the last time it filed papers with the Ethics Commission, but by November it had enough to fund a maximum $12,750 contribution to Ms. Thomas.
It appears the Sixth District Congressional Committee was also at least partially responsible for the maximum $12,750 contribution given by the 30th District Republican Committee. On Nov. 1, the Congressional Committee kicked in to the 30th District Committee to the tune of $25,500, while an additional $3,250 was contributed to the committee by James Thomas, 5920 NW 96th Terrace, Kansas City, the same James Thomas who has been married to Sandra Thomas for 20 years.
The 32nd Legislative District Republican Committee had only $136.30 at the time of its last filing, Oct. 30, with the Ethics Commission, but came up with $12,750 for Ms. Thomas in the meantime. The deputy treasurer for that committee is James C. Thomas, listing the same home address as candidate Sandra Thomas.
For someone who lists not being a politician as being her chief virtue, Ms. Thomas has certainly shown a knack for playing politics.

The source of the contributions to Mrs. Thomas' campaign becomes crystal clear with the most recent campaign disclosure documents. The committees which did not have any money, but miraculously came up with enough to make sizable contributions to her campaign, received massive infusions of cash from Sam Graves' Sixth District Congressional Committee. The late contributions enabled Mrs Thomas to pour almost $200,000 into her campaign during the last few days.

The attempt to buy the election fell by the wayside when Mrs. Montee won with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

One last note: At the beginning of Blunt's term, he made a big deal about those who received license fee offices having to submit detailed plans. To this day, none of these "plans" have ever been released, as far as I can recall. Of course, most of those who were asked to submit these "plans" were people who had donated considerable amounts to Blunt. Perhaps the governor's biggest misstep is that, at the end of his term, just like at at the beginning, he doesn't think the people are smart enough to recognize a con job when they see one.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't Trish Vincent in charge of the Department of Revenue at the beginning of the administration all the way through early 2007 when Ed Martin was sent packing?

Wasn't she at the helm during the FBI investigation she decries as a conspiracy theory?

Anonymous said...

You mean the FBI investigation that found no wrong doing?

I would bet a whole year's salary that Turner and his ilk will not be the eagle eye investigators when Nixon bids the offices out, and Blunt did bid the last ones to be given out, and key donors or family members or organizations end up connected with them.

Anybody who thinks Nixon is taking the patronage out of the system is undoubtedly as out of touch as we always knew they were. First in line is Turner.

Anonymous said...

Randy if this is such a big issue for you why aren't you putting in proper historical context?

Mel Carnahan sold these things to campaign contributors and there is paperwork to prove it.

At least try to be unbiased.

Randy said...

I have mentioned that before. I have made it clear that this to the victor goes the spoils practice has been a tradition in Missouri politics. However, this particular post has to do with an effort by Matt Blunt to rewrire history. Not only did he come very late to reform on this issue, but it was not until after he, or his followers, had corporations established to run the fee license offices and milk every last cent from them.