ST LOUIS – Paul Berry’s unsuccessful campaign in the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District seat, held currently by Congressman Lacy Clay may not have turned over his report to the FEC, but he did turn over his financial records to The Missouri Times. While the records show a campaign starved of fundraising, it doesn’t show any significant funds paid to the candidate or spent without verifiable documentation.
His loss to Steven Bailey in August highlighted a rough trail for the political activist’s attempts to make it into elected office. Berry has run twice before for state representative, but this time ran for Congress in the 1st, a district that many feel is as hopeless for Republicans as the 7th Congressional District in Springfield is for the Democrats.
However in this race, he felt personally maligned and neglected not only by his opponents, but by many Republicans in the state and even members of his own campaign staff.
Berry says his campaign’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when he told his then campaign manager Chris Howard that he would consider using his congressional campaign as a springboard to run for St. Louis County Executive in 2018.
Howard was quick to refute any conspiracy theories of a conflict of interest.
“There’s no conflict of interest,” he said. “I’m not running for county executive. No one I know has declared an interest in running for county executive. If you’re going to run for federal office, I assume you want to run for federal office.”
Howard is the legislative director for St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, a leading Republican being recruited to run for county executive. Former Republican state Rep. Rick Stream narrowly lost to Stenger in 2014. Berry was very critical of his campaign manager for the loss.
“I personally think Chris Grahn-Howard is unqualified to run a Federal-level campaign,” Berry said. “There is a big difference between being a campaign consultant and a campaign staffer, Chris is a staffer, not a guy that can take a political talent and make them more effective. This disqualifies Chris from developing any candidate campaign that requires structural development from the ground up. The bottomline is Chris Howard never secured a single endorsement or [was] involved in a single dollar being raised. No campaign manager worth their salt would have such a record and be considered effective.
“It was clear to myself that Chris did nothing whatsoever to assist my campaign and never accomplished a single task I hired him to complete over his time with my campaign. It was also clear to myself and others supporting my campaign that Chris Howard placed his own self-importance over my campaign and wasted several months of failing to accomplish basic campaign communication functions. That is not the function of any campaign manager. I hired Chris chiefly to develop a positive relationship with GOP Federal delegation and myself. n retrospect, I don’t believe Chris Howard even tried.”
However, while attempting to take the high road, Howard’s version of events is drastically different. “I’m not in the business of trading insults with people. The reason I left — and he didn’t fire me, I quit. OK. So make that distinction out of the gate — is I didn’t feel it was a good fit because he was theoretically paying me for my advice and my counsel, he didn’t ever take it. You know it was just a frustrating experience to do those things. That’s why I left. I’m the one who ended it.”
There is even talk that Berry is contemplating suing Howard for fraud related to his dealings with the campaign, but that would be a first of its kind in Missouri.
“I will take action against any person that caused damage to my congressional efforts by stating or suggesting anything that is unfactual or against the facts established by Missouri Times’s review of my campaign financing records,” Berry said. “Statements regarding the fiscal operations of my congressional efforts made in January, February or March 2016 have nothing to do with late filing of a FEC report months later and I will address any false statement with extreme prejudice. There are consequences to what you say about another person, especially when you were entrusted with responsibilities related to a political campaign. If Chris or others made statements that were untrue or deceptive, those who heard such statements can compare gutter rumor to your media agency’s review of my banking and transaction records to decide for themselves.”
Howard laughed off any insinuations of a lawsuit, “He can do whatever he wants. It’s a free country. He can sue whoever he wants to sue under whatever assumptions he wants to make. My assertion is simply this: I gave him sound advice based on normal campaign practices that work in any campaign from school board up on into and including president of the United States and at the time, he wasn’t interested in that. He wanted to do other things and that’s why I left.”
Berry’s likelihood of winning the general election as a Republican was always small. The 1st Congressional District is the most Democratic-leaning district in the state and the fourth most Democratic in the Midwest (excluding Illinois), according to analysis done by the Cook Political Report. But he also has spread blame for his primary loss to the Republican Party as a whole. Still, he says that Republican outreach in minority communities should be a priority, something done by the party and not solely by him.
“I spent a significant amount of time trying to develop the Republican Party as a whole in Missouri Congressional District 1,” Berry said. “That should have been a function of the Missouri Republican Party, not my congressional campaign. It is a lesson that I will have to incorporate in any future election I’m involved with in the St. Louis region.
“Nothing will change regarding Republican minority outreach in Missouri until the lack of Republican minority outreach is the cause of significant Republican statewide election losses.”
Berry told The Missouri Times that he believes the relationship between Clay and the Republican delegation was too “cozy,” highlighting a compliment from Congressman Sam Graves about Clay being a good representative for the city of St. Louis.
“My supporters were perplexed by this statement and I personally did not understand how Congressman Graves believes Congressman Lacy Clay is doing a great job in St. Louis,” Berry said. “Was it Lacy Clay’s anti-gun stance, his support for Planned Parenthood, or any of the other liberal-leaning public policy initiatives Lacy Clay champions?”
He said that he would likely endure a double standard if he made similar comments, and that he was told to “walk it off.” Clay first won the 1st district in 2000 and has been elected by wide margins ever since.
Howard was pragmatic in his postmortem on their relationship.
“I gave the man advice and he didn’t take it. And it was not a good fit, I called him up, I sent him a letter, I said, ‘Listen, this is not a good fit. I think you need to find somebody else.’ I didn’t ask him for any more money. I didn’t pursue him for any money that he may have owed me on paper or anything. When I left, I did nothing to hurt this guy. If I wanted to play that game, I could have done it, right? But I didn’t do it.”
Berry has also had to fight charges of impropriety committed by his campaign. While Berry’s unsuccessful congressional campaign hasn’t filed their quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission, he did turn over his committee’s records to The Missouri Times for review after a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article about his recent financial troubles.
Berry provided all bank statements and cancelled checks as well as contributors and cancelled checks to The Missouri Times and showed a campaign ran on a shoestring budget with over half of his expenditures on campaign consultants. However, they show a very transparent set of records that look to exonerate Berry of any wrongdoing.
Records show that the campaign was virtually out of funds and not completely functioning after March. While he did have a few high profile donors, the campaign was never able to raise enough money to sustain itself. However, an initial review of the financial information shows that every dollar is accounted for and there doesn’t appear to be any improper use of funds by Berry.
The campaign raised $13,430.87 from 34 contributions, and Berry contributed another $3,800 to the campaign himself. The money was spent in a bit of a top heavy arrangement with 56 percent of the money raised going to pay campaign consultants, 17 percent of the campaign funds were spent on food and beverages for events, while 9 percent went towards administrative costs such as registration fees and data.
Two months of rent for a campaign headquarters which was closed last year was $1,000, bank fees ate up 2 percent, and the campaign cut two checks to the candidate for $320. While these checks were cut before Berry made any personal contributions to the campaign these are legal and likely seen now as repayment of the $3,800 in loans to the campaign.
Only 8 percent of the campaign budget was left to be spent on campaign materials such as $1,158.30 to Mason Signs and $375 to Omar O’Hara Website and Graphic Design.
Berry also spent another $1,865 on campaign related expenses listed as in-kind loans. Most of the $1,865 was spent on catering his announcement event and Lincoln Day expenses. All of which is documented in money orders and copies were provided to The Missouri Times.
The campaign began and ended in financial turmoil with the first check deposited into the account being returned. Overall, two checks written to the campaign were returned, and two checks the campaign wrote were returned.
However, after the exploratory committee account had been closed and the balance transferred, a $700 check to the St. Louis County Republican Party for St. Louis County Lincoln Day sponsorship was returned and is still in dispute. Berry says this was written months ago and questioned why the check was held for so long.
The returned check was written on March 1. According to the St. Louis County Republican Central Committee, the matter is still unresolved, but Berry has committed to settle the matter in the coming weeks.
On June 24, Berry closed the Paul Berry III Congressional Exploratory Committee and formed the Paul Berry III for Congress Committee. The new committee took in another $234.26 in online donations after administrative fees and a $10 deposit. On July 6, $80 was withdrawn from an ATM in Clayton leaving the account with $169.96 on July 6 which is the final date records were provided for.
While the 1st Congressional District is overwhelmingly Democratic, Berry ended up losing in the Republican primary to Steven Bailey 67 percent to 33 percent. He put out a statement saying that “My party has spoken. Lacy Clay will continue to represent Missouri Congressional District 1.”
In the aftermath of his defeat Berry took to Facebook to discuss his future plans of running for office again. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles responded to his posts that it was likely that the lack of voter information on the race and the fact that Bailey was listed first on the ballot.
There are several people who have attempted to draw lessons from Berry’s campaign from the difficulty in challenging congressional incumbents to congressional districts which are drawn with district partisan advantages. Some candidates have pointed to Berry’s campaign as part of the issue Missouri Republicans have in balancing consultants roles in campaigns.
Berry has filed his FEC report for Berry for Congress, where less than $5,000 was spent. Records for the Berry for Congress Exploratory Committee are yet to be filed with the FEC and will continue accruing fines until filing.