Money speaking, loudly

by Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 3/31/16 (Op Ed) --  To determine which Columbia Mayoral candidate is beholden to which special interest, and who expects their donations to benefit them, one need only look at filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC).    The MEC requires periodic financial reports from candidates for public office.  

Brian Treece has received quite a bit of money from labor unions.  He’s also received the endorsements of all three labor-related unions/groups at City Hall:  police, fire, and public works.   He’s a registered lobbyist who represents other unions in Jefferson City.    His other donations have mostly been from local donors, who typically gave small amounts ranging from $5.00 to $100.00.

Skip Walther has also received plenty of donations from small, local donors.   But while there is some confusion about whether or not he should have registered as a lobbyist representing clients before the city and county, that doubt does not extend to who donated to him. 

“A significant portion of the donations Walther received came from...prominent names in the local development community,” the Tribune reported.   The Missourian said he was “raking in donations from real estate and development interests.” 

The newspapers were right. 

Walther’s donations included $1,000 from Eran Fields, a California developer demolishing another historic part of downtown for another student apartment, this one 10-stories high.   Skip got $500 from the man on the other side of the Fields transaction, Mike McClung, who sold Quinton’s for Fields’ wrecking ball. 

Paul Land and his firm, Plaza Commercial Realty, donated $700 to the Walther campaign.   That was modest compared to the $10,000 Land gave Daryl Dudley, the 4th Ward Council Candidate who “suspended” his campaign in disgrace after Land – Dudley’s campaign treasurer – got caught trying to engineer a “work around” to MEC reporting requirements.  

Dudley’s campaign failed to properly disclose $60,000, most of it from a big developer PAC called Citizens for a Better Columbia (“better” for whom?)  

Stan Kroenke’s right-hand-real-estate-man, Otto Maly, donated $2,000 to Walther for Mayor.   Emery Sapp and Sons – corporate home of the Thornbrook and Old Hawthorne developer family – donated another $1,000.   

Developer-attorney-in-chief Craig van Matre and his partner, Tom Harrison, donated $1,200.    Mega-developer Tom Atkins – whose St. Charles Road Development Group just sold another $300,000 worth of land to City Hall (for a bigger golf course, of course) -- donated $1,000.   Construction giant Randy Coil gave $1,000.   Many other donors were bankers, lawyers, engineers, and prominent business owners, especially in the real estate business. 

Walther has criticized Treece for taking money from unions, which Treece has represented – with proper MEC registration – for much of his career.   Treece has likewise criticized Walther for taking donations from those who hope that, if elected, Walther will vote to approve their projects and use the Mayor’s bully pulpit to push for more development at taxpayer and ratepayer expense.    

I see no way Treece benefits labor leaders in
Kansas City, St. Louis, or Springfield, where some of his donations have come.   He can push for better working conditions and better pay at City Hall, but as we all painfully know, city manager Mike Matthes has the real power of that purse.  

Walther, on the other hand, does have a strong chance of benefiting his developer contributors.   His 1/7th vote would mean a lot; his power to browbeat opposition, as we saw time and again with Mayor McDavid, would mean even more.  

Money out of politics?   It starts at the local level.    At this local level, history has proven that developers view donations as nothing more than ROI:  return on investment.

-- Disclosure:  Ken Midkiff has donated to the Treece for Mayor campaign.  The thoughts reflected in his columns are his own, and do not represent the editorial position of the Columbia Heart Beat.