Jetton deal sparks 'serious concerns'

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

However, the state ethics commission said his political consultant arrangement with Jason Crowell was legal.

The political consulting deal between House Speaker Rod Jetton and state Sen. Jason Crowell seems to be legal but creates an "appearance of impropriety," the Missouri Ethics Commission ruled.

Commission executive director Robert Connor reported the commission's ruling in a letter to Jetton dated Friday. Connor told Jetton the business relationship does not violate campaign finance laws as long as the payments are properly disclosed and do not exceed fair market value for the services provided.

Jetton, R-Marble Hill, received $33,000 for political consulting work for Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, during 2004 and 2005. Crowell's campaign committee made the payments to Common Sense Conservative Consulting LLC, a firm established by Jetton's wife, Cassie Jetton.

Crowell and Jetton are close friends who share an apartment while in Jefferson City for legislative business. Crowell, who could not be reached Monday for comment, said in February that he credits Jetton's political help with helping him win the 27th District Senate seat in 2004.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Crowell repeated those remarks. "I hired the best political mind in Missouri to help me as a political consultant," he said. "As long as he allows me to engage his services, I will continue to do so."

Crowell said in February that Jetton continues to work for his committee. Jetton was paid $3,000 a month during the 2004 election year and received $1,000 a month since. Crowell's most recent campaign disclosure report, however, lists no payments to the consulting firm.

And on March 17, Crowell's campaign committee filed amended disclosure reports for the entire time Jetton has been receiving payments providing additional information about the nature of the consulting work. In the report for the period covering Oct. 1, 2005 to Dec. 31, 2005, for example, Crowell reported that the payment was for "fundraising, media, direct mail services, scheduling, voter analysis, messaging and communication services."

The reports had originally stated that the payments were for "consulting."

There are several potential problems with the arrangement, Connor wrote. If the payments exceed the value of the services, and Jetton was subsequently asked to take a specific action in an official capacity, "a question could exist about whether the excess amount had been paid or received for that purpose."

The fact that the contract pays for work conducted by one elected official on behalf of another elected official makes it a questionable relationship, Connor wrote.

"While the arrangement may not itself be prohibited by existing campaign finance and conflict of interest laws, the Commission has serious concerns" about the arrangement, Connor wrote, and "the appearance of impropriety that would be associated with such an arrangement."

Connor could not be reached Monday for comment.

The commission's opinion was issued in response to a request from Jetton for a ruling on the legality of his business relationship with Crowell. Jetton made the request after news reports disclosed that he was the owners of Common Sense Conservative Consulting LLC.

The Ethics Commission hired a contract attorney to review the issues involved.

"I am pleased that the recent opinion offered by an independent counsel at the request of the Missouri Ethics Commission shows that Common Sense Conservative Consulting LLC was set up and disclosed in a proper and legal manner," Jetton said in a prepared statement. "This final opinion makes it clear that all laws were followed and all business arrangements were publicly transparent as I have stated all along."

Jetton would not comment further, said Todd Abrajano, House communications director.

Jetton isn't the only lawmaker earning money as a political consultant. Rep. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, earned $20,000 in 2004 for his work on behalf of the Sixth Republican Congressional District Committee. Lager also earned $23,000 from the campaign committee of Jeanne Patterson, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress.

In addition, Rep. Doug Ervin, R-Kearney, earned $15,000 from the Sixth Republican Congressional District Committee in 2004.

Attempts to make it illegal for members of the legislature to act as paid political consultants failed this year during debate on changes to campaign finance laws.

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