Ethics commission settles complaint about Talent's campaign

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Ethics Commission has sent a "letter of concern" to Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Talent to settle allegations that he violated campaign finance laws in his failed 2000 governor's campaign.

The letter, which was publicly released Tuesday, is the mildest action the commission could have taken short of simply dismissing the complaint.

"We had thought from the very beginning that this was more of a clerical error than it was any willful disregard of the law," said Lloyd Smith, who managed Talent's Senate campaign this year. "At the end of the day, we feel this exonerates Jim and the gubernatorial campaign from any serious wrongdoing."

Missouri Democratic Party executive director Mike Kelley, who brought the complaint, said the Ethics Commission conclusion "clearly was a violation of a law" -- even though there wasn't a penalty.

Talent narrowly lost to Democrat Bob Holden in Missouri's 2000 governor's election. He narrowly defeated Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan in last month's special Senate election and already has assumed the duties of a senator.

Amended reports

The Ethics Commission said Talent did not comply with state law when his gubernatorial campaign committee failed to show its unpaid expenses on its pre-election reports.

Talent's 2000 campaign filed amended postelection reports two weeks ago reflecting that debt, the Ethics Commission said. Yet Talent's debt-retirement committee did not disband as quickly as required by state law after it had raised enough to cover its shortfall, the state commission said in documents released Tuesday.

Ethics Commission executive director Robert F. Connor said Talent's violation was minor and similar to mistakes made by other candidates.

"Their reports were wrong and they amended their reports, which then put them in compliance," Connor said, "and that's the main thing we're concerned about is that people comply."

The complaint related to his 2000 race became an issue in the final weeks before the Nov. 5 election when the Democratic Party pushed for a resolution and the Ethics Commission confirmed it was pursuing the alleged violations.

Kelley said he remains frustrated that the Ethics Commission did not decide or settle the case before the election.

"I believe they robbed the voters of being able to make an informed decision on November 5," Kelley said.


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