‘Aspirational biography’ raises questions about Diana Kander’s desire to lobby in increasingly personal U.S. Senate race

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Jason Kander’s campaign for U.S. Senate against incumbent U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has plastered the airwaves with ads attacking Blunt over his family’s work in lobbying. However, Jason Kander’s wife Diana’s biography provided by her then-employer Lathrop & Gage reads that she was assisting in lobbying efforts herself before Kander was in public office.

The candidates both present impressive resumes to Missouri voters. Kander has served in the Missouri House and is currently Missouri’s Secretary of State. While Blunt is one of only two people in the history of the country to serve in both house and senate leadership.

However, as impressive as their resumes are, their wives’ accomplishments are perhaps more impressive. Blunt’s wife Abigail is a high-ranking executive with the Kraft Heinz corporation, while Diana Kander (featured, right) is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and public speaker.

“I’m running to be Missouri’s senator because it is time we had someone who stood up for the middle class, not millionaires, corporations, and lobbyists,” Jason Kander said at the Boone County Democrats Chili Dinner in February 23, 2015.

While Kander has spent millions of dollars attacking Blunt for his wife’s occupation, new facts are coming to light that suggest that the Kanders haven’t always had such a pessimistic view of the lobbying profession.

Diana Kander worked for Lathrop & Gage from 2005 to 2006, following a law school internship in Washington with the prestigious firm, which features a large government relations practice. During her time at the firm, Mrs. Kander’s biography, listed on the Lathrop & Gage website, stated that she assisted in lobbying efforts before Congress.

“She has also spent time working with the Washington D.C. affiliate of Lathrop & Gage by assisting in the lobbying efforts of major Midwest companies before the U.S. Congress,” reads her biography. “This work includes finding and advocating for new funding opportunities for special projects and monitoring critical developments in specific areas of the law.”

The Kander campaign pushed back aggressively, stating that her biography was an “aspirational biography,” and it was not truly representative of her work at the firm. Regardless of whether the biography was aspirational, one key distinction between the Kander’s family and Blunt’s is that her work with the firm was done before her husband filed to run for a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives in 2008.

Diana Kander forcefully responded to questions about Lathrop & Gage’s biography.

“I am not a lobbyist, have never been a lobbyist, and have never lobbied state or federal government in my entire life. Senator Blunt is maliciously spreading misinformation for his political gain about the beginning of my career, when I was an intern in Washington doing legal research and then was a first-year associate in Kansas City focusing on real estate law and representing clients in front of local boards for legal purposes. Missourians deserve better from Senator Blunt and the Missouri Times.”

Lathrop & Gage told the Missouri Times that they do not comment on former employees beyond dates of employment and title. The firm neither confirmed nor deny the accuracy of the information it posted to its own website.

However, a former Lathrop & Gage attorney Terry Satterlee, speaking as a former executive committee member at Lathrop & Gage stated the biography wasn’t factual.

“I worked with Diana Kander at Lathrop & Gage the entire time she was at the law firm. I was a member of the firm’s executive committee during some of that time. During Diana’s time at Lathrop, Diana was never a lobbyist. When she attended local planning and zoning board meetings, she was performing legal work on behalf of clients, not lobbying. Those are two separate functions. Anyone who says otherwise is lying and purposely misleading the public.”

The Missouri Times spoke with two current attorneys with Lathrop & Gage and both of them stated that their biographies that are listed on the firm’s website were accurate and none of them had ever heard of an “aspirational biography” being distributed by the firm.

However, Lathrop & Gage wasn’t the only outlet distributing a similar biography. After returning to the Kansas City-area from Washington, where they both attended law school, the couple together founded Heartland Democrats, an organization which helped propel them into Missouri Democratic politics before Jason Kander’s election to the state House in 2008. They also began a 527 – a tax-exempt group which seeks to influence elections – which sought to promote progressive values under the Heartland Democrats banner.

A second biography, featured on the Heartland Democrats’ website, says that she “dedicates a large portion of her practice to representing government agencies, developers and other individuals before state and local governments in Missouri and Kansas.”

Kander is named as the representative on a zoning determination permit with the City of Kansas City for Jim Starr. Kander is also listed as a “Staff/Guest” at a Kansas City Tax Increment Financing Commission meeting on December 14, 2005, representing Lathrop & Gage. She appeared at that TIF Commission meeting along with Jerome Riffle, who was a registered local lobbyist for Lathrop & Gage at the time.

While Diana Kander has never registered as a lobbyist at the state or federal level, federal lobbying rules are different from Missouri’s. Federal rules require individuals who spend more than 20% of their time on federal lobbying within any three-month period to register. Missouri’s law requires almost immediate registration once an individual initiates lobbying activities.

After leaving Lathrop & Gage Kander’s LinkedIn says she began “various entrepreneurial ventures” in 2006 and served as COO of recently re-opened Screenland until 2009. (EDIT: A previous version of this story said that Screenland was defunct. After closing, Screenland has re-opened under new management at a new location.) In 2009, she started her own firm, Kander & Rigby, known as KR Legal Management,

After ending KR in 2013, she went onto the esteemed Kauffman Foundation, where she wrote New York Times bestseller “All in Startup” and propelled herself into the national spotlight as an entrepreneurial coach and speaker. In June 2014, she started at Leap Ventures as an innovation coach.

Meanwhile, Diana Kander left her teaching post at the University of Missouri – Kansas City for the University of Missouri – Columbia, where she teaches in the business school as an Assistant Teaching Professor.

KANDER GOES ON OFFENSE AGAINST LOBBYING
Meanwhile, a central theme of the Kander’s campaign has made a point of attacking Blunt, insinuating that his wife’s job creates conflicts of interest for the senator. On the campaign trail, Kander continually states that he’ll fight for the middle class, not lobbyists, and has a commercial running that features not only Blunt’s wife but his children as well alleging conflicts of interests arising from their jobs.

Kander has repeatedly pointed out that Senator Blunt’s wife Abigail (featured, left) works in governmental relations with The Kraft Heinz Company, and Blunt’s children are registered lobbyist his son Matt at the federal level and Andy at the state level.

Abigail Blunt began working in on Capitol Hill for President Reagan’s Administration and on the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush before leaving to work at the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Campaign Committee before working at Kraft Foods, now Kraft Heinz where she has risen to a top executive level leading their global governmental affairs.

Blunt’s response to questions of conflicts of interest are similar to Kanders with the explanation that in her role she does not engage in legislative lobbying of the U.S. Senate, and co-workers of her have backed up that explanation.

The Kander campaign has also repeatedly inferred that Andy Blunt also engages in federal lobbying even pointing to a line from Cassidy and Associates similar to Kander’s resume as proof. However, Andy Blunt has denied this, and several of his clients have confirmed the explanation.

The Real Clear Politics average has shown Senator Blunt leading the race by 4.8%, but national handicappers have consistently rated the race among the top ten most competitive with some even rating it as high as the 7th most competitive in the country.

“Jason Kander’s attacks on family lobbying are completely hypocritical,” said Rich Chrismer, communications advisor to the Missouri Republican Party. “Kander has made attacking family-lobbyists a central part of his campaign even though the record shows his wife, Diana, was a lobbyist in Kansas, Missouri, and Washington, D.C. This also raises questions about Diana Kander’s failure to register for lobbying activities that trigger the lobbying requirements in Kansas, Missouri, and Washington, D.C.”

As the race becomes more competitive look for it to become more personal between the two very accomplished candidates, and potentially between their two equally accomplished wives.

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Rachael Herndon Dunn

Rachael Herndon is the managing editor at The Missouri Times, but also produces This Week in Missouri Politics and publishes Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in 2014, returning to writing after working as a campaign and legislative staffer. Rachael studied at the University of Missouri - Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children. To contact Rachael, email rachael@themissouritimes.com, or via Twitter @TheRachDunn.

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