Commission clears Blunt of allegations

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Ethics Commission has cleared Gov.-elect Matt Blunt of allegations that he used government money for political purposes by running pro-voting newspaper ads featuring his smiling face.

Blunt, as secretary of state, spent about $48,000 in federal funds to place the advertisements in 295 daily and weekly newspapers across the state shortly before the Aug. 3 party primary elections, in which Blunt was a Republican candidate for governor.

The ads included Blunt's black and white photo, a drawing of an American eagle with wings spread wide and the bold-faced headline: "WE WANT YOUR VOTE COUNTED!!!"

The ads said: "Missouri's chief election official, Matt Blunt urges every eligible Missourian to vote in the August 3, 2004 primary election. Your county clerk's office or local election board stand ready to assist you in making your voice heard."

Blunt's spokesman, Spence Jackson, designed the ad and has defended the inclusion of Blunt's name and photo as a way to personalize the ad's civic message.

"We always knew we were acting within the spirit of the Help America Vote Act in producing those informative public service announcements," Jackson said Monday. "That complaint was just one in a series of politically motivated complaints designed to embarrass the secretary of state in an election year."

The federal Help America Vote Act, enacted following problems during the 2000 election, provides states money that, among other things, can be used for voter education efforts.

Four of Blunt's lesser-known opponents in the Republican gubernatorial primary filed ethics complaints, as did a supporter of State Auditor Claire McCaskill, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who defeated Gov. Bob Holden in the August primary but lost to Blunt in the Nov. 2 general election.

McCaskill supporter Steven Reed alleged in his complaint that the advertisement "amounted to a publicly-paid campaign ad" for Blunt and that Blunt had used the federal money "as a personal political slush fund." The other complaints made similar allegations.

In a short Nov. 9 letter to Blunt, the Ethics Commission said it had voted five days earlier to dismiss the complaints.

"The commission determined that the secretary of state's office did not use taxpayer funds to support a candidate," the letter said.

Reed expressed frustration both about the outcome and the fact that the commission waited to decide the case until after the general election.

"I really think they should have ruled against them, and I'll always believe that," Reed said. "They should have reprimanded him at least."

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