How the robotically on-message Greitens administration shot themselves in the foot over tax credits…with a howitzer
By Scott R. Faughn
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Team Greitens is on message 24/7/365, which is why when they are not it’s particularly interesting.
During the campaign, no matter what question was asked of Eric Greitens, the only answer he gave was that he was an “outsider” who also happened to be a “conservative.”
No matter what question you ask Gov. Greitens, the only answer you will get is about his “fighting” a legislature of “career politicians” who happen to be “corrupt” – and don’t forget, he is “fighting” them.
That’s why when the Governor got pushed into empaneling a blue ribbon committee on tax policy, you could see a self-inflicted wound coming a Missourah mile away.
We decided to take an in-depth look at how the issue got here, what happened to the commission, the impeccable draft report that commission produced, the watered down report that was ultimately submitted, and the bizarre behavior both staffers for the Governor and a state legislator engaged in to cover up the fact the draft report ever existed.
Part I: The Backstory
Republicans begin turning on Reagan, Kemp, & Ashcroft…well, some of them anyway
During the 1980s, it was morning in America, and for conservatives, it was morning in Missouri. The economy was booming, and while President Ronald Reagan was cutting government, he was also moving programs from direct welfare state initiatives toward public-private partnerships.
One of the leading conservative members of his cabinet, former congressman, and future vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp devised a plan to move federal economic development programs away from the Pruitt-Igoe model and into a public-private partnership tax credit model that was ultimately called the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.
Upon the passage of the federal program, states quickly began creating state LIHTC programs to work alongside the federal program to entice more development and, especially, more development in rural areas, as the program was increasingly being concentrated in the fast growing suburban areas.
Governor John Ashcroft passed down Missouri’s tradition of moving state government into public-private partnerships to the next generation of Republican state leaders – like then-Senator Peter Kinder, who would emerge from the 1992 Democratic statewide sweep to take legislative majorities less than a decade later.
As the Democratic Party became increasingly more urban and the LIHTC program becoming increasingly more rural, Governor Jay Nixon, who had been a supporter of LIHTC projects for a large part of his career, even voting to approve several very successful rural LIHTC projects while serving on the MHDC board as attorney general, turned on the program after being criticized by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2010.
Placating urban media and an increasingly urban Democratic Party, he empaneled a commission with the stated goal of abolishing these rural tax credits. While the commission was upfront and honest about their intentions, their out of the gate goal was to deal a crippling blow to rural Missourah.
The rural Republican-dominated legislature spiked the Post-Dispatch-Nixon Plan without much serious consideration. A former senior aide to the Governor remembered, “It was one of the only times I saw the Governor really care about unfounded media criticism. Sometimes when we were criticized, we deserved it and the Governor acknowledged it, other times when we didn’t, he shrugged it off. We made the mistake of reacting to an unfounded attack by the Post, and we got what we deserved on it.”
Greitens’ decision to emulate Governor Nixon’s tactics on economic policy was a considerable head scratcher to observers who watched then-candidate Greitens ruthlessly attack Nixon’s leadership style and Missouri’s lagging in economic growth.
As for Republicans, the issue began to split the caucus after the 2004 elections, culminating in a serious conflict after the 2012 cycle. As Governor Ashcroft had passed leadership on the issue to Dean of the Party then-Senator Peter Kinder, he was in-turn was passing leadership on the issue to a new generation of Senate conservatives in Senators Ron Richard, Eric Schmitt, and Mike Parson.
However, as the tax credit industry supported their longtime ally in then-Lt. Governor Kinder in 2012, they would make a very powerful enemy in the process in his opponent, Senator Brad Lager. Working alongside a friendly reporter with the Post-Dispatch, the die was cast for a lengthy fight.
One committee member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “I had no clue that there was all of this personal drama attached to tax credits. I just thought we were gonna go sign some pre-written report to abolish tax credits like Nixon’s committee did, but as I was driving to the first meeting I got a call from a former senator and realized this was going to be a blood-letting to settle some old scores…..and, of course, then sign a pre-written report to abolish tax credits like Nixon’s.”
Over the last five years, the issue of whether or not to abandon economic development programs in rural Missouri has deeply divided Republicans and many feel that animosity is directly responsible for the committee and its questionable legitimacy.
Part II: The Committee
“Recommend comprehensive tax reform legislation to the Governor no later than June 30.” Translated from Central West End speak into Missourah dialect – “Fake a committee process to publish a report bashing rural Missouri tax credit programs”
After the dumpster fire of its last week, there are several theories circling the Capitol about how the Governor’s Committee for Simple, Fair, and Low Taxes came to exist, and who is to blame for it. As one of his staff members commented at the time during a text exchange, “the more adjectives in the committee’s title the more likely that their report ends up Facebooked than TAFPed.”
One theory some have pushed was that the committee was a consolation prize for former Senator John Lamping who they may have thought wanted to join the administration. There may be some truth that those in the administration believed that, but that theory was pretty well debunked, as he has always had a very successful business career that has often kept him from other political endeavors.
Another was that this was a favor to a big donor. Again, there may be something to that, but it’s pretty clear that the Governor has produced plenty for two of the state’s biggest donors that he didn’t need to do this to make them feel they had gotten a solid return on their money.
Whatever the reason the committee was formed, it started out as a multiple adjective poll-tested buzzword fest, announced with great fanfare from the Governor’s website and Facebook page. By the time the report was released, it was clear to anyone watching that the buzz had clearly subsided.
On January 25, in an announcement from the Governor’s website, complete with a staged photo op pasted to the Governor’s Facebook page, he announced his blue ribbon committee stating, “What our people want is a tax system that is simple, fair, and low. What we have instead is a tax system that is complex, corrupt, and high. So today, I signed an executive order to put an end to our broken tax system once and for all.”
It stated that he would put four members on the committee, the House would appoint three members, and the Senate three members. However, in the executive order if you read past the politician speak, he included as the last goal of the committee to “Recommend comprehensive tax reform legislation to the Governor no later than June 30.”
Six days after asking for six legislators to sit on his committee to revolutionize Missouri’s economy, he took to his Facebook page to attack the same legislature after it rejected a pay increase posting, “It was a pathetic display. Seven hours of taxpayer time could have been spent doing just about anything. Maybe they could have talked about how to grow jobs in our state, increase wages, improve our schools, or clean up our streets. Nope. Instead, they talked about the reasons why they deserved more money.”
It was surprising to see the Governor denounce the General Assembly at the same time he was asking members of that group to make up a majority of his committee.
A month later the appointments to the committee were made. A month seemed like a long time to make a few appointments, and that’s because the Governor knew all along who he was going to appoint to the committee – former senators and staunch tax credit opponents Jason Crowell and Lamping, as well as his Policy Director Will Scharf and Department of Revenue Director Joel Walters, but he wanted to appoint the other six as well.
To be fair, of all the people involved, Walters – who was tasked with being the chairman – deserves the least blame for the debacle. When asked to move to Missouri to enter the bureaucracy, he was a New York City lawyer working for Price Waterhouse.
While the Department of Revenue’s website states that he started his job on April 1st, and in what he had to assume was an April Fool’s prank, he was named the chairman of the committee on February 24th with the first meeting the next week. It was truly a no-win situation for Walters, who most everyone involved said was professional and, in a true team player move, made honest efforts to put as much lipstick on the pig as possible.
The real reason it took a month to name a ten person committee has more to do with the Governor not only wanting to pick his four committee members, but also intending to pick the Legislature’s six members as well.
The Governor’s staff clearly wanted Rep. Jay Barnes and Rep. Holly Rehder on the committee and got them. Rep. Elijah Haahr was also added by the Speaker. The Senate had proved to be a little different for the Governor to deal with.
When the Governor made his request to rubber stamp his appointments, he was fresh off of a handful of slights to the traditions of the state and Senator Richard, who at the time may have been the only person in the entire Capitol with the self-respect and concern for the state to directly stand up the Governor, shooting down Greitens ill-conceived plan of moving the inauguration to the University of Missouri in Columbia.
After a heated discussion and the invention of the nickname “The Georgia Peach,” Senator Richard told the Governor that he could go up to the college but the Senate and the rest of the state would be on the steps of the Capitol as Missourians had always done….Senator Richard won. Eric Greitens was sworn in on the steps of the Capitol, just as Governor Bond, Hearnes, Ashcroft, Blunt, Nixon and each of his predecessors were.
While initially Senator Richard was vocal in his opposition, quickly a bipartisan group of senators that would become known as the courage caucus would equal and seemingly even surpass Senator Richard in defense of the institution of the senate. They recently even went so far as to demand Senator Richard empanel an interim committee to investigate the Governor’s ethics violation.
Weeks later, Senator Richard checked the Governor for threatening Senators in his office over the vote on pay raises…by end of the week, the Governor was lifting weights with Senator Denny Hoskins.
In the meantime, the Governor unilaterally offered paid leave to state workers without informing the legislature…resulting in Senator Richard after being pressed by the courage caucus held up of the Governor’s first round of nominees for his cabinet.
With such a contentious relationship, it’s a wonder that the Governor got two of the three senators he wanted, Senators Will Kraus and Andrew Koenig, on the committee. Senator Richard appointed Senator Dan Hegeman who, while being geographically well-positioned for the anti-tax credit crowd, is known to be a statesman and would at least offer substantive ideas to what was already considered by most a preconceived report.
It does seem odd that a committee whose announcement included Facebook slams of “lobbyists,” “special interests,” “insiders,” and the “well-connected” ended up including a New York City accountant, a half-dozen politicians, two former senators, a Harvard educated attorney, and a former lobbyist.
By this time, people were getting accustomed to the Facebook style rhetoric, and many legislators simply lacked the self-respect, courage, or reverence for their offices to stand up for themselves when repeatedly personally attacked and belittled.
It was already clear to longtime observers of Missouri government as one vocal state senator put it that, “Recommend comprehensive tax reform legislation to the Governor no later than June 30,” when translated from Central West End speak to Missourah dialect meant, “Fake a committee process to publish a report bashing rural Missouri tax credit programs.”
Keep in mind for later that not everyone on this committee is a longtime observer of Missouri government.
Part III: The Real Report
“It’s our fault we didn’t let the new guys in on the joke before they did all that extra work.”
As everyone knows, ultimately the committee would release a report that would be a predictable rehash of bashing tax credits that read like an urban media editorial.
However, The Missouri Times published an earlier draft of the report that many have called “the best document they have ever seen produced by state government.”
It was 83-pages of near brilliant writing that included literally hundreds of footnotes. While many would debate the conclusions, they were a series of serious policy solutions offered to address the serious policy issues in the Governor’s executive order.
To understand how the 83-page report that actually was a “recommendation of comprehensive tax reform legislation” was neutered into the 30-some page rehash of Governor Nixon’s economic strategy, you have to look at how the committee was administered.
The first meeting on March 10 was a harbinger of things to come. They started off with a short public meeting in the Truman Building, the temple of Missouri bureaucracy, only to dive off into closed session for really no clear reason.
It would be the first in a pattern of affronts to the Sunshine Law. At times, the committee would comply with the Sunshine Law, such as give public notice of the meetings, and having a quorum to approve the minutes, other times simply ignore that the sunshine law existed.
Notably, there were several lengthy closed sessions, and it’s challenging to see any reason a committee on taxes would be dealing with litigation, or personnel issues, or bid processes – all of which are legally appropriate reasons for a closed session within Missouri’s bureaucracy. It seems they just wanted to have some discussions which the public wasn’t privy.
Several members of the committee confirmed that during the closed sessions they really just sat around and argued over how much they were going to cut tax credits and strategize on how to pass a bill. Other times they debated how far they could stretch executive branch authority to putatively harm the programs relegating the General Assembly irrelevant to the process.
Attorney General Josh Hawley’s website states that, “Section 610.022, RSMo, also states that no public governmental body can move from an open meeting into a closed meeting without a roll call vote, and that the vote and the specific section of § 610.021, RSMo, shall be publicly announced and entered into the minutes.” It is basic practice not to share what section of 610.021 they were using when going into closed session.
When asked why they periodically ignored the Sunshine Law one legislator was very candid, “I’m not an expert on the Sunshine Law because we are exempt to it in Senate hearings. I wouldn’t have cared if we never went into closed session. We probably didn’t follow the right procedure because, as legislators, we weren’t all that familiar with it and no one was really taking this all that seriously, save for the chair and vice chair.”
Outside of the bizarre and possibly illegal obsession with closed sessions, it was obvious that Chairman Walters, and committee Vice Chairman Scharf were taking the committee more seriously and going to professionally study all of Missouri’s taxation and incentive programs as their boss, the Governor, had charged them with.
However, it was also just as clear that literally no one else on the panel was taking the “Recommended comprehensive tax reform legislation to the Governor” part seriously. Even while doing the work of a comprehensive report, according to two sources, the committee’s Vice Chairman Will Scharf indicated during one of the closed session discussions that cutting tax credits was the Governor’s top priority.
Most knew there was no point in showing up that the final document would bash tax credits and that would be it, and a couple of others were very clear about their intentions and didn’t need any political cover or platitudes.
Former Senator Crowell, never one to lie about his intentions or mince words, stated at the first meeting referenced Rowdy Roddy Piper in saying, “I have come to sunset tax credits and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubble gum.”
One of the leading commission members commented privately, “We should have just said we’re here to cut tax credits, period. Instead, we did this whole comprehensive committee process and dragged in MoDOT and a bunch of others, wasting their time, when those issues were never going to be addressed in our report. We really should have just let the new guys in on the joke before they did all that extra work.”
The committee also created three subcommittees: tax incentives, tax policy, and sales tax to help provide the comprehensive report the Governor had requested.
In what might have been a tell to a more seasoned Missouri political observer, none of the subcommittees amounted to anything because the other 8 members of the committee were not going to waste their time in subcommittees on a report which was always only going to attack tax credits.
More telling was that the elected officials just didn’t show up to the committee meetings.
Like seriously, they just didn’t attend the thing.
One commission member, who feels he has a good relationship with the Governor, commented, “I like Will and the DOR director, and I’m all for killing tax credits, my district doesn’t need them anyway, but I’m not gonna show up for meetings with every state department for no reason. I have a family that I don’t see enough during session anyway.”
Whatever spin the administration attempted to put on the committee, the reality of how seriously the members were taking the it was clearly evidenced in their attendance, which was anemic throughout.
In one meeting, even counting the committee members calling in without having to actually show up, they had to wait until the end of the meeting to achieve a quorum of attendance to approve the minutes from the prior meeting because they didn’t have a quorum.
At the May 23 meeting where the topic was the state’s income tax, a key reason most people are Republicans in the first place, not only did the committee not have a quorum, they had only one person show up, and one call into the meeting.
After that, media reports began to lampoon the committee’s attendance and suspecting there was more side-show than policy-making going on. At that point, others on the Governor’s staff began calling committee members and politely, but firmly, “encouraging” their attendance at the next meeting.
It worked, at the May 30 committee meeting, 9 of the 10 members were either there or called in. They discussed MoDOT and the state’s transportation funding deficit. Of course, as most anticipated none of the ideas developed at that hearing on transportation funding were included in the last report submitted.
“Most of us sat there texting ourselves the entire time. We all knew there was no way this Governor who spends his day on Facebook was going to get involved in finding a real solution for transportation funding. We got our knuckles racked to come to this thing and we basically have a House Transportation committee meeting 2.0 that at least 7 of us knew would never ever be in a report from this Governor’s office,” said one legislator whose attendance was “politely but firmly encouraged.”
After that, attendance would dwindle again as the committee slumped to its conclusion. By June 12, attendance had slumped back to only half of the committee to discuss a gross receipts tax, another hearing the committee held on an idea that they completely ignored in the final report.
At their last meeting on June 19, they turned it over to the chairman to draft a report. In putting breaking the Sunshine Law into an official motion, they voted to have Chairman Walters draft a report and email it to the committee members to make revisions. Those revisions were seemingly intended to be made and approved secret.
“It was my understanding that we would get the draft copy and then we would prepare our suggestions and have a public meeting where we decide what we would present to the Governor. When I figured out that wasn’t happening, I didn’t like it, but by then I was just ready for this to be over,” one committee member said.
With Walters running the Department of Revenue, the main work was led by Scharf. Conclusions on the tax credit portions of the report were made prior to the committee being empaneled so that only consisted of codifying them and drafting other portions of the report.
The first 50 pages that were eliminated were written based off of the material from the hearings and looking at other states that were experiencing positive economic development.
Besides gutting tax credits, they report included well-articulated plans to:
- Eliminate the corporate income tax
- Raise the gas tax
- Tax online purchases
- Put all economic development programs under the Governor’s sole discretion
- Raises taxes on federal tax payments
- Impose a gross receipts tax
- Change the current income tax to a less regressive formula
While compiling the report, both Scharf and Walters did have conversations with several cabinet members to discuss the impacts of many of the ideas and provided almost an overwhelming number of citations for their research and conclusions.
The incumbent elected officials had little input, after all, they had attended few of the meetings, and were not really all that engaged in a long-form study. The Governor’s other two appointees, Senators Lamping and Crowell, were openly and solely focused on gutting tax credits, so the report was left to the two government employees to compile.
Together they produced what might have been the most competently written and well-argued government document to ever come out of Missouri government providing well thought out policy proposals to problems Missouri had struggled with for decades…suckers.
Part IV: The Watered Down Report
“By the time The Missouri Times published the draft report there had already been commands from the highest levels of the Greitens administration, that the report was never to ever see the light of day.”
As the report was emailed to committee members, a reasonable person who had moved here from the east coast and had never been involved in politics would expect to see congratulatory replies and accolades for the hard work put into it – and even gratitude that their name would be affixed to such a well-written report that they really didn’t do any work on.
Well, if you have spent much time working in politics, especially politics in the social media era, you know a document that proposes tax increases and real solutions isn’t coming out of a “Facebook-obsessed” politician’s office.
The reaction by the committee was one of silence to the chair and vice-chair while calling other members of the Governor’s staff in a panic. Oh, and, of course, leaking the damn thing all over the Capitol, but we will get into that much more later.
The legislators with political aspirations weren’t gonna sign a report advocating a tax increase, those who were just out to eliminate tax credits knew that it would be hard enough to do just that, much less adding all these other things to the agenda, and a couple are currently beholden to the Governor at this point so they were already resigned to their fate and would have to begrudgingly sign whatever Scharf emailed them anyway. All the while, the June 30 deadline was looming.
The minute the draft report hit the committee member’s inboxes, the thought of a well-staged Facebook post with the Governor submitting the plan to him was out the window.
The Missouri Times began seeing draft reports early in the week sent by those in the political community, and from committee members themselves. However, each draft report was shared on the condition that it not be published.
The first member of the committee to share the draft report with The Missouri Times stated, “There was literally no way in hell I was gonna sign that thing, but you know he did do a damn good job.”
It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that a draft was shared along with the permission to publish it. By the time The Missouri Times published the draft, there was already commands from the highest levels of the Greitens administration, those both on the government payroll, and their bosses who are not on the government payroll that the report was never to see the light of day.
It was clear that eliminating the targeted tax cuts for housing developments was an acceptable tax increase while raising other taxes would not pass other’s litmus tests.
The decision was taken out of the hands of anyone on the committee and the order was given by the Governor’s top staff to include the forgivable loan scheme that would ultimately kill the program, and get it out the door on the take out the trash day the Friday before the 4th of July weekend.
The forgivable loan concept was designed by Brian Bear who is now the General Counsel for the Department of Economic Development. For those looking to kill tax credits the forgivable loan program would eliminate the use of the LIHTC program for private developers due to the tax liability resulting in only the non-profit developers remaining who would be easy to get rid of down the road. The idea also had the added benefit of convincing legislators from rural Missouri that they wouldn’t technically be killing the program, just reforming it, after all, what about forgivable loans doesn’t sound great?
Baer dictated the idea to Stifel Nicolaus who showed up one at of the hearings and repeated the plan as instructed. At the hearing, Peter Czajkowski and Gina Martin represented Stifel Nicolaus to advocate for the loan scheme.
With the ideas on tax increases made public, a committee – who began with a press release on the Governor’s website complete with laudatory quotes and a personal Facebook post that included a serious looking photo of the Governor signing official looking documents – ended without a word from him.
The report wasn’t even released on his website, it was hidden on the much less visible Department of Revenue’s website – without even a Snapchat post about it.
There was a buzzword filled video that accompanied it. However, it wasn’t a well-produced Facebook video from the telegenic Governor in his beautiful office on the second floor of the capitol.
Far from it, the director of the Department of Revenue, who has been the good soldier all along held a written script and recorded an unproduced YouTube clip where he gave a college try at explaining that the committee chose to ignore the wide ranging grandiose call that the Governor had asked them to serve under, and held multiple hearings over, and produced an amazingly detailed draft report about, that had now been neutered into a rehash of Governor Nixon’s attack on tax credits.
No mention of transportation funding, or the gross receipts tax, or changing the income tax, or anything but the cold political settling of scores that was predicted by the committee’s critics the day it was announced.
Also of note by many observers were that the MDFB and developer Steve Stogel were treated kindly. Mr. Stogel’s group was very involved in the committee, and of note were the kid gloves applied to the Renaissance Grand and Old Post Office projects.
Some would quickly question if those projects were in Ste. Genevieve County and not the City of St. Louis would be considered “picking winners and losers.”
Perhaps most coldly, the final report was sent out on the ultimate take out the trash day of Friday afternoon before a four-day holiday weekend…with no comment from the Governor while most of the top staff was two time zones away at a luxury Republican Governors Association staff retreat in Los Angeles, California.
Part V: The Cover Up
“Using House staff time and the Highway Patrol to stamp out leakers is nothing more than an Ed Martin-esque complete abuse of power.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of story is what happened after the draft report was published leading up to June 30 deadline.
It began when a copy of the outline – of what would become the draft report – was initially leaked to The Missouri Times from a source inside the executive branch. It was leaked on the condition that it could not be published or quoted, but used for background. A column based on the leaked outline was published confirming to those who predicted the committee was only ruse designed to attack tax credits they were right all along. Included in the forthcoming draft report. In the meantime, the outline and several of its concepts would begin to be pitched to administration officials and large Republican donors.
Early in the week before the June 30 deadline, drafts of the committee’s report were circulated to commission members and select Republican donors.
It would come as a shock to no one in Missouri politics that shortly after sending out a report from a committee whose legitimacy was questionable at best that it would be leaked all over the state. Tuesday alone, 4 copies of the draft report had been provided to the Missouri Times, two copies directly from committee members themselves.
However, each copy provided was given on the agreement that it was off the record with no permission to publish it. That would change Wednesday morning.
Wednesday morning another copy was provided to The Missouri Times, this time with permission to publish. Verification was quick due to the fact that it mirrored the previous copies provided directly from committee members.
The story was published Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m. The report full of well-developed ideas and backed up scrupulously with details was taken as nails on a chalkboard by an administration who is always on message, consistently offering few broad ideas and scarce details.
The 83-pages of well-documented fiscal policy included tax increases to offset the tax cuts in the document. Those tax increases, coming from an administration always on message about being “conservative outsiders,” were certain to be obsessively scrutinized.
As the report raced around the Missouri political community, it had something in it for every group of Missourians to quarrel with. Committee members began making it clear they would not be associated with the tax increases, all while the Governor’s top staff was itching to get on a plane to travel to a Republican Governor’s Association top staff retreat in Los Angeles.
The decision was swiftly made by the true top decision makers in the administration, the ones who are not on the state payroll, to cut out all of the ideas on economic policy and just give the anti-tax credit donors whatever they wanted to get it signed.
None of the radical changes to the draft report were made in a public meeting before presenting it. There was no public vote taken to officially adopt the report only the shell of the draft report with a page attached to the back with 10 signatures on it.
“Look I’m not saying we did it the right way, but by Thursday, I was so pissed at how they had screwed this up at every turn, I just wanted out of this,” commented another committee member on the secrecy of the final week.
At this point, even the members of the committee who wanted to reform tax credits, instead of completely eliminating them, threw up their hands and capitulated on the agreement that they just try and hide the report on the Friday afternoon before the 4th.
Then, as is always the case, the cover up is where the real drama begins.
The first idea floated inside the administration was to completely change the logo and layout of the final report, delete the substantive ideas and claim the draft report had been faked in a “fake news” defense.
However, it was the quality of the document and the specificity of the details that many felt made the “fake news” defense unbelievable.
When they realized they couldn’t completely distance themselves from the draft report, the question then turned to who leaked the report. When the leaked information is damaging, focusing on the leaker is the next best defense. Since many committee members had expressed reservations about the tax increases, and the due to the Governor’s contentious relationship with the legislature, there were several possible suspects. In reality, the same reason attendance was so sparse was likely the same reason there were so many leaks.
Finding out who the leaked document they were staring at on their computer screens turned out to be relatively easy. The document was prepared by lawyers who used Bates stamping to identify and track different drafts of documents. It showed the Governor’s staff’s skepticism of the legislators on their hand picked committee that they needed to Bates stamp them, but that skepticism proved well founded.
The Bates stamp in the published copy numbered, WA 68877112 was quickly traced to the copy sent to Rep. Holly Rehder.
Being outed as the leaker would put any legislator in a compromising position, but particularly so for Rep. Rehder. Her largest supporter in the donor community has the largest personal vendetta for the tax credit community.
Her largest supporter period is Governor Eric Greitens who has personally facilitated fundraising meetings on her behalf and whose staff has lobbied House members to support her for Speaker of the House.
When initially contacted by the Governor’s office, Rep. Rehder denied she had leaked the report, as every other member of the commission who had leaked the report would likely have done as well.
At some point, either as a result of being sarcastically prompted by Governor’s staff or volunteered by Rep. Rehder herself, the theory that her Missouri House of Representatives official email account had been hacked became the new explanation for how this report became public.
Either out of embarrassment over the committee’s failures, the stinging rebukes from Greitens’ supporters who would be apoplectic over tax increases, or just wanting to get the thing over with and get on a plane for Los Angeles and the 4th of July weekend they decided to go along with the hacked theory and a criminal investigation ensued.
By 12:45 p.m., administrative leadership with the House of Representatives were expending staff resources on the hacking lie, and later that afternoon, the Missouri Highway Patrol had been contacted.
By 4:00 p.m., The Missouri Times had been alerted by an off-the-record source that the Missouri Highway Patrol was being asked to investigate a hacking claim regarding the report that had been published that morning.
The next morning, sources inside the Missouri House of Representatives IT department had began to confirm that their servers had not been hacked, and began sharing their findings with Rep. Rehder and law enforcement.
Now the Missouri State Highway Patrol was in the spot of investigating what could become the filing of a false report…by a member of the Missouri House of Representatives…encouraged by senior staff member to the Governor of the State of Missouri.
Upon an in-depth confirmation of our sources, it became clear that the draft report that the Missouri Times obtained was not obtained by a hack. It was provided willingly by Rep. Rehder to our source via a private non-governmental account. That intermediary, in turn, provided the copy to The Missouri Times.We were able to further authenticate the version and would never reveal the intermediary under any circumstances.
It was after an open records request was submitted to the Missouri House of Representatives by The Missouri Times that the newspaper was contacted by a member of the administration with what was taken as friendly, concerned advice via text message. “This has gotten out of hand and everyone just wants it to go away, but I wouldn’t put the thought of them seeking revenge when this outs as a possibility.”
The Missouri House of Representatives couldn’t have been more cooperative or forthcoming in working with them on the request, and the Missouri Highway Patrol “does not comment on open investigations.”
A member of the Missouri House Judiciary Committee, who had independently learned of House of Representatives staff time being used on the complaint commented on the possibility of any of the Governor’s staff involved that “Using House staff and the Highway Patrol to stamp out leakers is nothing more than an Ed Martin-esque abuse of power.”
In the days since the initial draft report was published, there are several sources inside the administration that claim the staff is encouraging a switch of support in the Speaker’s race away from Rep. Rehder to Rep. Robert Cornejo. However, the Governor is the one insistent on continuing their support of Rehder.
Also, days after the draft report was published that included tax increases and the signing of the state budget as a whole, a $500,000 advertising buy from Governor’s dark money committee was placed claiming he wouldn’t support tax increases.
Literally two weeks after the Governor’s own staff compiled a draft report the dark money arm was required to spend a half million dollars to specifically rebuke the Governor’s own plan. It’s unclear if the funds expended were part of the Indian Casino contribution from earlier in the year.
The story is still developing, and all eyes will be on what documents are ultimately released and how far the Governor’s office was willing to go in to back the hacking claim. It is an open question whether or not the forthcoming allegations provide a tipping point for the courage caucus in the senate to convene an investigatory committee before moving forward, or if this is where Senator Richard puts his foot down and demands answers of his own.
Regardless of the answers that are provided in the coming days this rare instance of a lapse in message discipline has provided an interesting and revealing look inside the now locked doors of the 2nd floor.
We now have a glimpse of several high-level staff members having significant internal disagreements. Senior staff having policy agendas that are not supported by other senior staff. More importantly, the level of candor provided on this issue shows a legislature’s growing apathy for being asked for votes, to sit on predetermined committees, and to serve as props at events for a Governor who constantly belittles and humiliates them as a principal political strategy.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.