Willis Jones may be the new playmaker in Republican politics, building his business making the best defense for candidates in a great offense.
At his research firm, Jones says his team’s services help candidates prepare for potential attacks. Jones founded Capitol City Research in 2014 and has since grown ten times over, boasting over half of his clients are from out-of-state.
Just in Missouri, Jones has helped former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, current Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, incoming Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and committee organizations like MSCC and HRCC, in addition to countless other state legislators.
“The methods I use work,” Jones said. “73 percent of my clients have won.”
His methods? Knowledge.
His on demand team works fast to compile opponent research, as well as research on the candidates themselves, something he calls “inoculation.” He has five members on his team now, but during peak campaign season, the team has grown to 13, who mostly work part-time.
“I find out all the bad stuff about who’s running against you and I watch out for the same for you,” Jones said. “We find out the bad stuff before the other guys do. Because of the information we found, we were able to craft messages for our clients to respond to attacks before they happened. Inoculation helps you get ready for attacks.”
The 30-year minister and recent pastor may be giving a new face to the reputation of research. Jones currently serves as the pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Tuscumbia, but was called to the ministry in 1988. He’s happy to share that his office neighbor is the executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and loves sharing a home with the powerhouse church’s organization in the Missouri Baptist Building.
He has been met with some questioning how he can be a pastor and also be political research professional.
“I like to think I’m shining a light on people’s records that may not have been shown,” Jones said. “People like me bring information to the public eye and let people make their own decision based on the information.”
Though Capitol City Research has only been around since 2014, Jones has been doing research professionally for 22 years. He got his start in 1996, interning for David Barklage, who was then head of HRCC. He still has a close relationship with Barklage.
Jones decided to jump in and start his own company after meeting a growing research demand for several Republicans since leaving Kinder’s office, where he served as director of constituent research.
“It got to the point people were asking me to do research for them and it just made sense,” he said. “What would it be like if I did some marketing? Then it took off in 21 different states.”
Jones is originally from Oklahoma but has long called Missouri home. He and his wife, Wyllma, have two grandchildren.
“This is the first cycle in I don’t know how long that I’m not sweating,” Jones said. “Since 2014, we’ve grown 10 times over.”
The secret to the company’s fast growth? Likely that Jones always tries to give the best price to clients – and making friends.
“They say if you want a friend in politics, get a dog, but I’ve made many.”
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting 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.