JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The race to replace Sen. Rob Schaaf as the next state lawmaker in District 34 continues to draw attention due to a number of ethics complaints filed relating to the campaigns.
Democrat Martin Rucker is facing Republican Tony Luetkemeyer in the November election, but as of now, both candidates have been dealing with accusations of dark money and violations of campaign contribution laws.
Taking one of the last opportunities he would have to speak as a state senator, the term-limited Sen. Schaaf on Thursday railed against dark money donations once again.
Schaaf explained how dark money had affected the state in the past few years before sharing how he believed dark money had affected the primary race to claim his state senate seat.
“It’s important because the Missouri Senate is going to have to grapple with the issue of dark money in the Senate,” he said. “It’s affecting the Senate this year.”
Schaaf said it was a battle between two of the people’s rights – the right to know who is trying to influence elections vs. an individual’s right to free speech.
Schaaf explained that, in the SD 34 race between Tony Luetkemeyer and Harry Roberts, there had been instances of coordination between the Luetkemeyer campaign and various PACs, referencing that fact that “US Term Limits” dumped $450,000 into the race against Roberts.
Missouri Senate Conservatives Fund spent $490,000 over the campaign’s final month to assist the eventual winner, Tony Luetkemeyer.
That PAC has ties to Jeff Roe, a veteran GOP operative and principal of Axiom Strategies.
Schaaf railed against Roe and his groups during the special session, asking his colleagues if the laws “apply equally to all of us, or is it only to apply to all of us who are not wealthy?”
Schaaf then said that he had filed a complaint against 8 entities, a 43-page document, alluding to coordination between the groups and pointing to collusion to help Luetkemeyer win over his primary challenger, Harry Roberts.
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Read the full MEC filing below:
The MEC dismissed one such complaint against Luetkemeyer, with allegations of coordination between the Missouri Senate Conservatives Fund and his campaign earlier this month, one week prior to Schaaf’s speech on the Senate floor.
And while Roe and Luetkemeyer have to deal with that, Rucker, his campaign, and Northland Progress are now facing complaints filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. The complaints have not been ruled on
The chairman of the Platte County GOP, Jim Rooney, filed complaints on Sept. 10 against Rucker and, as Rooney put it, “the dark money group Rucker co-founded” for violating campaign finance laws.
The complaints outline allegations that Rucker failed to disclose in-kind contributions and expenditures made on his behalf of which he had knowledge of and directed/coordinated with the nonprofit corporation.
Rooney argued that Northland Progress was illegally operating as an unregistered political action committee (PAC) to try to hide the source of the contribution.
“Northland Progress is a dark money group co-founded by Rucker, started with seed money from his failed state representative campaign,” said Rooney. “It does not disclose its donors and has never registered with the MEC or filed reports. Northland Progress’s dark money spending on behalf of liberal causes and Democrat candidates goes unseen, even as it endorses and coordinates with Rucker and other candidates who are the group’s members. I hope that the Missouri Ethics Commission, the IRS, and relevant law enforcement agencies will put a stop to this illegal dark money scheme.”
“This is exactly what’s wrong with our politics these days. Martin’s opponent, Tony Luetkemeyer is currently under ethics investigation for winning his election with $1 million in dirty money from Eric Greiten’s corporate donors. So Tony is literally creating fake news to bring Martin into the mud with him,” Adrianne Marsh, spokesperson for the Rucker for Senate campaign, said. “The choice is clear: if you want more of the same Jefferson City political games then, by all means, you should believe this false attack and support Tony. But if we finally want to clean up the corruption then support Martin Rucker. It’s that simple.”
You can read the filed complaints below:
It’s not the first time ethics complaints have been filed in the race, with Luetkemeyer and Roberts both facing complaints prior to the primary, though all complaints up to the most recent weeks have been dismissed. One thing seems to be clear, however; SD 34 is becoming a sort of primer for deciding what constitutes “dark money,” and will play a pivotal role in how campaign finance laws are interpreted.
The MEC does not comment on complaints until they are ruled on. Here is the process and deadlines applied to a complaint:
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.