Political consulting common in state

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars are spread among dozens of firms.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Consulting firms operated by individuals in or close to positions of power are becoming more and more common in Missouri politics.

A Southeast Missourian sampling of committees operated by candidates and political parties shows that in the last two years more than $1 million in fees has been paid to these consultants. Consulting firms are operated by individuals representing both Republicans and Democrats, but the vast majority of the money found in the Missourian's sampling was spent by Republicans.

The review of money funneled to consultants was prompted by the media attention given this week to the payment by state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, of $33,000 in campaign funds over the past two years to a consulting firm operated by House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, Mo., and his wife, Cassie.

Other GOP consulting firms are directed by former legislative aides, former lawmakers and former top party officials. The consultants, and their connections, include:

* Donna J. English of Jefferson City, one-time Missouri House communications director and wife of Neal English, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood. English calls her firm Capitol Consulting LLC.

* David Barklage of Cape Girardeau, former staff member for then-Senate president pro tem and current lieutenant governor Peter Kinder. Barklage runs Strategic Communications Group Inc. and the Campaign and Research Agency.

* Jewell Patek of Jefferson City, former lawmaker and current lobbyist for numerous industries, associations and Southeast Missouri State University. Patek's consulting firm is known as Election Day Enterprises LLC.

* John Hancock of St. Louis, former Missouri Republican Party executive director and one-time lawmaker. Hancock runs John Hancock and Associates LLC, and Public Pulse Research.

* Daryl Duwe of Jefferson City, currently a staff member for state Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, and former communications director of the state GOP. Duwe's firm is known as Prestige Powers.

The consulting firm formed by Jetton in 2004, with his wife listed as the registered agent until earlier this month, is called Common Sense Conservative Consulting LLC. Crowell is the firm's only client.

The most prominent Missouri Democrats operating consulting firms are Roy Temple and his wife, Stacie Temple. He was a former chief of staff for Gov. Mel Carnahan. She currently works for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. He runs Strategic Solutions Group. She is the registered agent for Premier Project Consultants.

Temple said he and his wife have worked only for the Missouri Democratic Party, taking payments directly from the state party's main bank account. That's in contrast to Republican consultants, he said, who make their money from numerous committees and candidates, which makes it difficult to find out exactly how much each is making.

Candidates are required to report payments of campaign funds to political consulting firms, and legislators like Jetton whose firms receive those payments are required to list the income.

A few of the consultants, like Patek, work as lobbyists attempting to influence politicians who rely on them for campaign advice and fund raising, Temple said. That isn't ethical, said Temple, who added that he had no other client than the Democratic Party during 2003 and 2004. During that period, he was paid approximately $16,000 a month by the Democrats, and his wife's firm was paid anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 with each payment.

"I could have supplemented my income by taking on lobbying clients," he said. "They are making money off the candidates, then turning around and lobbying people they are raising money for."

Patek declined to be interviewed for this story. "That is a private company, and I don't consider that your business," he said. "It is not a public entity, and I don't wish to comment about my clients' business."

The methods of financing campaigns in Missouri have become complex in recent years, as the political parties and the politicians learn avenues around contribution limits.

State law limits political giving to candidates. Individuals may give no more than $325 to a candidate for the Missouri House, $650 to candidate for the Missouri Senate and $1,275 to a candidate for statewide office.

But gifts to party committees and "continuing committees" are unlimited.

The party committees include those organized for a county, a legislative district or statewide office. Continuing committees include industry or union political action committees and committees with a particular goal, such as the Senate Majority Fund designed to help Republicans maintain their strength in the state Senate.

For the election cycle that ended with the 2004 voting, the Senate Majority Fund took in more than $2 million. And the committee, in addition to helping individual candidates, passed on hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state Republican Party. The party, in turn, sent money to local and regional committees.

Similar activity can be found in the disclosure reports of the Democratic Party. In 2004, Democrats sent $25,000 checks to numerous local county and district party committees.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when many of the local party committees raised their money from events like picnics and small, local contributions.

"It does a real disservice to the public, all these campaign reform ideas," said Hancock, the former state GOP executive director. "They really do a disservice to public disclosure. ... To support candidates, that is what the law requires you to do."

What is different for many of the GOP committees, however, is the number of times one or more of the consulting firms is listed as a recipient of the money.

Of the consulting firms, only Hancock's uses his own name, making it clearly identifiable who is receiving the money. For other firms, discovering the identity of the people involved requires researching state business filings.

"I am certainly very comfortable with the way I conduct my business," said Hancock, whose firm received more than $137,000 from the Missouri Republican Party in 2005. "In politics, the only thing you've got is your reputation. When you spoil that, you are not worth much."

For another consultant, connections helped win her work but not current connections. Senate President Pro Tem Gibbons became acquainted with Donna English when she worked as his intern in the Missouri House. She proved her worth soon afterward, he said. She would be his fund-raising helper even if she weren't married to his chief of staff, Gibbons said.

"We play by the rules and do it the right way," he said. "She has done an excellent job. She is very talented and I think one of the best."

Gibbons, too, believes following campaign money is becoming too complex. He also blames the law limiting contributions to candidates.

"It is pretty tough for the citizens to know who is helping who," he said.

English received $64,282 from Gibbons' campaign committee from late 2003 to the end of 2005. She also received more than $100,000 from other candidates and committees, mostly in commissions for fund-raising efforts.

English estimates that she raises about $2 million every two years for candidates and party committees.

"I am not twisting people's arms to hire me," she said. "If I don't get the job done, I don't get paid. I am very open."

Barklage of Cape Girardeau concentrates his business on strategy and issues research, he said. He doesn't engage in fund-raising or lobbying, he said.

Consultants in politics is part of a larger trend toward specialized consulting firms in numerous industries, Barklage said.

Barklage's contracts pay him set amounts, such as $9,000 a month from the Senate Majority Fund. In 2004 and 2005, Barklage received more than $200,000 from the fund.

"You might say, 'Wow, that is a profitable business.' But when you include overhead, taxes, it is not so much," he said. "They expect you to work hard for your money."

The current state GOP executive director, Jared Craighead, said he sees nothing wrong with a system of consulting firms supplied by Republican campaign dollars. "We fully disclose all of our relationships in accordance with the law," he said. "And there are lots of seasoned political veterans in the private sector that have a lot to offer."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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