KC Star: Rod Jetton still pulls strings in Capitol

Monday, October 19, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Former politician turned political consultant Rod Jetton has heard it all before.

He's the "Wizard of Oz" behind the curtain making things happen in Jefferson City.

The 42-year-old former House speaker from Marble Hill told The Kansas City Star he should be flattered.

"Quite frankly," he said, "I don't have any power. I can't kill a bill. I can't refer a bill. If I have any power, it's because of one thing: I know how to run a campaign and win a race."

Not everyone agrees. Some lawmakers, lobbyists and political observers are accusing him of exercising undue influence in the legislature and acting like a lobbyist, even though he is not registered as one.

Jetton runs a consulting firm, and The Star reported Sunday that his clients have collected huge campaign donations after supporting legislation backed by wealthy Missourians.

The claims come against the backdrop of a reported FBI investigations into alleged "pay for play" schemes in the legislature in which political favors are being traded for campaign donations.

The Star story highlights one heated vote late April in the Missouri House on changing the state's judicial selection process.

Rumors flew that a reward was coming for the Republican leaders who pushed it through.

More than $250,000 in contributions for a Jetton client and for GOP campaign committees arrived soon afterward from the Humphreys family of Joplin, which had strong feelings about the issue.

The amount of money and the timing stunned some lawmakers.

"That's ridiculous," said Rep. Gary Dusenberg, a Blue Springs Republican.

Lawmakers said it's becoming a recurring pattern that after a bill is defeated, supporters are encouraged to hire a political consultant or step up their campaign contributions. Then the bill suddenly advances in the next legislative session.

Judicial nominees for the state supreme and appeals courts, along with some larger circuit courts, are vetted by commissions made up of lawyers, gubernatorial appointees and a sitting judge. But conservatives have assailed the process, arguing that it gives too much influence to trial attorneys.

The Humphreys family owns Joplin-based Tamko Building Products Inc., which makes roofing products and other building materials. The company has been named in numerous asbestos lawsuits and boasts of a "very aggressive" litigation strategy.

Some companies believe that, through the political process, they can put judges on the bench who are more conservative and sympathetic to corporations.

Jetton and other House leaders have courted the Humphreys family for years, but Jetton denied any involvement in the judicial reform bill, which failed to win passage in the Senate.

David Humphreys and other family members did not respond to requests for comment from The Star.

But Rep. Brian Yates, a Lee's Summit Republican who sponsored a major ethics bill last session that was defeated, said the contributions raise serious questions.

"That amount of money being contributed that close to the vote is concerning," Yates said. "People can draw their own conclusions."

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