Senate bill targets consulting contracts

Friday, March 3, 2006

The bill, which is unlikely to pass, would ban lawmakers from being paid for campaign help.

The consulting contract between House Speaker Rod Jetton and state Sen. Jason Crowell would be illegal under a bill introduced this week by a St. Louis Democrat.

Jetton, R-Marble Hill, receives $1,000 a month to act as a political consultant for Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. Crowell's campaign fund pays the money to Jetton's firm, Common Sense Conservative Consulting LLC. The contract has paid Jetton $33,000 since the consulting firm was created in June 2004.

"The perception is just terrible," said state Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis. "It doesn't pass the smell test."

Crowell accused Days of a "petty political attack." The arrangement is legal and Days is playing election-year politics to make the public believe it is somehow immoral, Crowell said.

Days' bill would ban such contracts. Lawmakers would be able to help one another with campaigns but not on a paid basis. The bill contains no penalties for violations.

'Struck me as quite odd'

"It just struck me as quite odd, the amount of money that is being transferred," Days said. "The perception it gives the public about how we operate up here isn't good."

Jetton and Crowell have defended their business relationship as legal and mutually beneficial.

Jetton did not return a message left with House Communications director Todd Abrajano. But in an interview Feb. 23, Jetton said he has worked diligently on Crowell's behalf and spent long hours advising him, developing strategy and tactics and preparing advertising materials.

The consulting firm was originally organized by Cassie Jetton, Rod Jetton's wife, with a business address at the Jefferson City apartment Jetton and Crowell share while in the state capital. On Feb. 8, Jetton moved the consulting firm into his own name and moved the business address to his Marble Hill home.

Jetton isn't the only high-profile political figure to sell his services as a campaign consultant. He is, however, the only sitting lawmaker with such a business, and Crowell is his only client.

Jetton and Crowell describe each other as best friends. They worked closely together as House members, with Jetton serving as speaker pro tem from 2003 to 2004 while Crowell led the GOP as majority floor leader.

Crowell questioned why the relationship has become an issue now. 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.

"I disclosed everything publicly and openly," Crowell said. "Look over every one of my campaign finance reports. It is a partisan, petty political attack."

Information about the relationship was anonymously distributed to news organizations across the state after Jetton switched the firm to his own name.

Days' bill has no co-sponsors, which Crowell said shows that other Democrats agree that it is a personal attack on himself and Jetton.

"This is a personal political attack orchestrated through the Democratic caucus," he said. "There is no substance to her concern."

Days, however, said she has no personal animosity toward Crowell or Jetton.

"If Democrats are doing it, it is just as wrong," Days said. "This is not a personal attack, and it is not vicious. I am just bringing to light what goes on in this building."

Publicity about political dealings can quickly change how lawmakers operate, Days noted. Reports that the Senate Majority Fund was soliciting lobbyists to pay $1,000 each to attend breakfast meetings with Senate committee chairmen resulted in the cancellation of those meetings.

As one of only 11 Democrats in the 34-member Senate, Days doesn't hold much hope of winning passage of her bill.

"I don't even think this is going to get a hearing," she said. "But at some point we need to look at the entire process."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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