Blunt: Ameren donations to Nixon 'disturbing'

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Attorney General Jay Nixon's campaign contributions from AmerenUE are "clearly disturbing" as the state attempts to hold the utility accountable for the disastrous rupture of the Taum Sauk reservoir, Gov. Matt Blunt said Tuesday.

During a news conference in Cape Girardeau, Blunt said Nixon hasn't been sharing information about the case Nixon's office is preparing against Ameren. Since the reservoir atop Proffit Mountain ruptured Dec. 14, both Nixon and Blunt have talked tough about making the company pay for environmental damage, including severe damage in Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

The Associated Press reported this week that Nixon received $19,100 in contributions from local political party committees soon after those committees received large donations from Ameren. The contributions were reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission in early April and were made during the Jan. 1 to March 31 period covered by the latest disclosure reports.

The contributions create a conflict of interest that would raise questions if it involved a private lawyer and a potential court adversary, Blunt said. Nixon is responsible for enforcing the state's environmental laws when court action is necessary.

"It is clearly disturbing," said Blunt.

Blunt, a Republican, expects to face Nixon, a Democrat, during the 2008 governor's race. The contributions received by Nixon are part of a pattern, used by Republicans as well as Democrats, that has funneled millions of campaign dollars around the state's contribution limits.

Contribution legislation

Lawmakers this year passed a bill that eliminates those contribution caps and bars local party committees from making large cash donations to candidates. That law, which Blunt has indicated he intends to sign, doesn't take effect until Jan. 1.

Blunt used the campaign financing method extensively during his 2004 election bid, receiving more than $1 million via local political party committees. He has continued to rely on the funding source to fill his re-election coffers, accepting more than $252,000 in contributions from local party committees since Jan. 1, 2005.

During the same period, Nixon has raised $132,000 from local party committees.

The typical scheme for moving the money to candidates involves a large donation from a source such as another political party committee, an industry- or union-sponsored political action committee or a wealthy individual.

The contribution is reported by the local party committee, then a contribution is made to a candidate. The candidate reports the contribution as originating with the local party committee, not the original donor.

The method has been condemned by sponsors of this year's campaign finance overhaul as a "lawful form of money laundering."

Despite his support of the changes, Blunt said Tuesday that he would not change his fund-raising tactics until the law changes. "I don't think that is the issue," Blunt said. "We are going to comply with the existing law through Dec. 31, and comply with the law after Jan. 1."

Through a spokesman, John Fougere, Nixon declined to comment for this report. The Associated Press reported that Nixon said the contributions from Ameren will not influence his decision on whether to file a lawsuit against the utility.

"Unequivocally, my decisions are based on what's best for the people of Missouri, and I have a 20-year record to prove that," Nixon said.

He also said that he would not refrain from taking future donations from Ameren.

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