Crowell paying House speaker for consulting

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Cape Girardeau senator has paid $33,000 to Rod Jetton's firm over the past 20 months.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In the last 20 months, a limited liability corporation set up with the wife of House Speaker Rod Jetton listed as the registered agent has received $33,000 from state Sen. Jason Crowell's campaign treasury.

During that time, Crowell was the only client of Common Sense Conservative Consulting LLC, the consulting firm established in June 2004 with Cassie Jetton as the registered agent.

Jetton, in an interview Thursday in his Capitol office, said he, not his wife, did the consulting work and that he believes he earned every cent.

"I was working my butt off to help a good friend get elected, just like I help lots of people get elected," Jetton said.

In 2004, Crowell was unopposed in the Republican primary in his bid to become the state senator in the 27th District, which includes Cape Girardeau. He faced both Democratic and Libertarian opponents in the general election and won with 66 percent of the total vote.

Previously, he had served two terms in the House of Representatives. He and Jetton, the state representative in the 156th District from Marble Hill, Mo., both were first elected to the House in 2000.

The contract between Common Sense Conservative Consulting and Crowell called for payments of $3,000 a month during the 2004 election, when Crowell was seeking his Senate seat and Jetton was hoping to capture his current job as speaker. Common Sense Conservative Consulting is currently receiving payments of $1,000 a month from Crowell's campaign.

When originally set up, the consulting firm listed its business address as 129-D E. High St. in Jefferson City. That is the address of the apartment Crowell and Jetton share while in the state capital.

On Feb. 8, Jetton substituted his name for that of his wife as the registered agent of the company and moved the address of the consulting firm to his home in Marble Hill.

The financial relationship between the men, who each described the other as his best friend, was little known until Jetton revealed it to a select group of Republican House members Wednesday evening and to the entire GOP House membership during a caucus Thursday.

All of the payments are disclosed in Crowell's campaign finance reports. Jetton's involvement in the consulting firm is shown on documents on file at the Missouri secretary of state's office. Copies of those documents were anonymously distributed last week to news organizations across the state.

"It was fully disclosed," Jetton said. "I followed every law there is to follow. I've done it exactly like many other members do who consult and work for companies. It is no different from the other business I have, and I work as hard as I can to serve my clients. The only difference here is I don't have the time to help as many people as I would like to help. But my best friend, I do."

Jetton's help was a huge advantage in deterring GOP opposition and propelling the Senate candidate's victory, Crowell said.

"People can call you names, and people can make wild assertions, but in the end I hired the best political mind in Southeast Missouri," Crowell said. "I'd do it again, and I am thankful my best friend in my hour of need said yes. He was the brain behind getting Jason Crowell elected to the Missouri Senate. That is very difficult for candidates to admit, but I admit it fully."

The $33,000 paid to Jetton represents about 8 percent of the $428,000 Crowell has raised for his campaign since he started planning the Senate race.

To raise the money, Jetton said, he developed campaign fliers and direct-mail appeals and helped Crowell hone his message. That effort is still going on, Jetton said, justifying the continuing payments of $1,000 a month.

"I continue to work for him for his overall district presence and what he needs to do messagingwise," Jetton said.

That work includes advice on "where he needs to be, where he needs to visit and what he needs to communicate to effectively make sure he wins re-election."

Before Jetton revealed the consulting relationship to a group of Republican House whips Wednesday and the full GOP caucus Thursday, it wasn't widely known that he had worked as a paid consultant to Crowell, said lawmakers who attended the meetings.

The meetings generated some questions, but not many, said state Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau.

"With any type of arrangement in which a legislator is engaged, you have to be careful of the intent and the perception of intent of the relationship," Cooper said. "No one would believe there is a quid pro quo occurring."

Because of term limits, state Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit, has one of the longest perspectives in the Missouri Legislature, first winning a seat in the House in the 1970s, then moving to the Senate before leaving that body in 1993. He worked as a lobbyist before returning to the House in 2003. "I believe Rod and Jason when they say everything has been done correctly, legally and aboveboard."

The payments to Jetton aren't a big concern on the surface, said Johnson. Every lawmaker is considered to be working at their elected office part time and need another income, he said.

"The fact that the guy is a political consultant and serves as a political consultant doesn't necessarily bother me," Johnson said.

In addition to the political consulting firm, Jetton operates a real-estate appraisal business with his wife. His working relationship with Crowell was no different from that operation, he said.

"Everybody has to work," Jetton said. "If you ask me to do an appraisal on your house, we might be friends, but you are still going to pay me, aren't you?"

Jetton said he won't be taking on any other political consulting clients until he is closer to finishing his time as a member of the Missouri House.

And Crowell said he's going to keep Jetton on contract. "There is nothing improper about that. Rod Jetton is a tremendous asset to any individual that would want his help to get re-elected. I can't imagine anybody that wouldn't want Rod Jetton's help, if they are a Republican, to get into elected office."

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