Ties between lawmaker, tycoon worry residents

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Political and social ties between Lebanon tycoon Robert Plaster and state Speaker of the House Rod Jetton are adding to concerns among some Stone County residents that influence played a part in an ongoing Table Rock Lake land use controversy.

Public records show multiple Plaster donations -- $19,000 over three years -- to a political campaign committee over which Jetton holds influence, according to a News-Leader data study.

Jetton has also written in his Capitol Report journal about his two invitation-only hunting trips on Plaster's "Empire Ranch" in Laclede County.

At Plaster's largesse on the two trips, Jetton enjoyed, in his own words, "very thick and juicy steaks" and a "huge breakfast."

The residents say such ties indicate the powerful lawmaker got involved in a last-minute law change to benefit Plaster.

"You can have influence either by friendship or by financial or by other forms of influence, some of which could be negative -- we don't always know what those are," said Wayne Miles, a Springfield physician who owns a home near Plaster's lake property.

"What's obvious to me is Rod Jetton put the amendment on the Senate Bill 22, and an Aug. 29 filing was made to petition to form a village on the first day the law could be enacted," Miles said.

"To me, it's cause and effect. Would it hold up in court? Probably not," he said. "But it's obvious something happened there. I think that's what everybody's take is. Nobody else has filed a petition to incorporate [elsewhere in Missouri] that I can tell."

'Highly suspicious'

Stone County residents along Route DD near Kimberling City have opposed several of Plaster's lake property proposals since the 1990s. Plaster also tried under the old law to create a village of his 400 acres at Table Rock Lake in 2003. The Stone County Commission turned him down, and a state appeals court upheld the decision in 2006.

The new "village" law, which went into effect Aug. 28, revises the old one so that it's easier for any landowner in any Missouri county to petition the local government to form a village. If successful, the new village could be exempt from county jurisdiction on such things as planning and zoning ordinances. It also appears to weaken the authority of local lawmakers to stop such efforts.

A state lawmaker from Stone County said he was told Rod Jetton personally asked a House researcher to put the amendment in final form. The document was then slipped into a bill in the final hours of the legislative session in May, unbeknownst to other lawmakers, without discussion or debate.

On the day the law went into effect, Plaster's attorney followed the new provisions and filed a petition with the Stone County Commission to create the Village of Table Rock there.

"To me, there's an obvious connection there; anybody would agree with that," Miles said.

Jetton has declined several News-Leader requests for comment. Attempts to reach Plaster have failed.

Jetton's alleged role in getting the law change into the bill and refusal to account for his role, if any, reflects poorly on the lawmaker, said Bob Redfield, who lives with his wife, Lin, near Plaster's lake property.

"What I've been told is you don't give the appearance of doing something wrong, and that's what he's done," Redfield said.

"It doesn't sound good," he added. "We know this goes on; it's not illegal. It's just like what Jetton did wasn't illegal. It wasn't immoral. But he wasn't standing up to his constituents to tell them about it. That's not the best way."

Financial ties

Plaster's name and the name of his corporation, Evergreen Investments LLC, appear as donors to a Republican campaign fund designed to help the speaker and other Missouri Republicans.

The Missouri Ethics Commission shows that Robert Plaster and/or Evergreen Investments contributed to the House Republican Campaign Committee, or HRCC, in 2004 through 2006. The report shows Plaster and/or Evergreen gave $1,000 in 2004, then contributions substantially increased in 2005 to $10,000 and again in 2006 with an additional $8,000.

All Republicans including Jetton raise money throughout the year for the committee, which continues year after year. The HRCC in turn spends money on behalf of Republican political campaigns at various levels of government. As House leader of his party, Jetton can influence where the funds are spent, fellow Republicans say.

During his second term, Jetton became speaker of the House on Jan. 5, 2005.

At the same time Jetton serves as House speaker, he also serves as Missouri political director of the Mitt Romney for President campaign.

Records show Plaster and his wife, Mary, gave $6,300 this year in $2,100 increments in January and February toward the Romney for President campaign.

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