JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rep. Courtney Curtis has officially landed in hot water with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
The MEC last week put out an order, which finds Curtis and the committees supporting him, ‘Curtis for Mo’ and ‘Curtis for Missouri,’ in violation of several campaign finance laws.
The MEC investigation into Curtis and his committees found nine counts of violations:
- Failure to timely and accurately update statement of committee organization
- Failure to maintain an official fund depository account in the candidate committee’s name through which all contributions are deposited and all expenditures are made
- Unauthorized use of campaign contributions
- Commingling committee funds with funds of others
- Cash contributions and expenditures in excess of limits
- Failure to timely and accurately file campaign finance disclosure reports with cumulative information from the date of the last report
- Failure to timely and accurately report contributions received
- Failure to timely and accurately report expenditures and contributions made
- Failure to maintain committee records in accordance with accepted normal bookkeeping procedures
Some of the findings of the investigation show that Curtis used campaign contributions to buy gas while traveling to and from House sessions, that at least $2,000 in committee funds had been commingled with the funds of others, including Curtis’, as well as failing to timely and accurately report hundreds of contributions.
After granting a continuance, the commission heard the case back in late April of this year. Curtis was granted additional time, until June 16, to provide additional evidence for the commission to consider, but according to the order, Curtis never offered any exhibits or legal responses under the imposed deadlines, which led to a unanimous vote from the commission to fine the state representative from District 73.
The commission ordered Curtis and the committees to pay a fee in the amount of $114,050, an amount that a number of veteran observers are saying is one of the largest fines they have ever seen. (Former Sen. Robin Wright-Jones was hit with a $271k fee in 2013. The MEC fined former state senate candidate and former Rep. Rodney Hubbard with a $322k fine in 2010.)
But Curtis and the committees can avoid paying it all if they pay $11,400 of the fee within 45 days of the order, which was issued on July 14, and file all required campaign disclosure reports. If they can comply with that part of the order, then the remainder of the fee will be stayed.
If, however, that amount is not paid within the 45 day time period, then the full fee would need to be paid. If any other violations occur within the following two years, then the remainder of the fee will also have to be paid in full.
Curtis and the committees could utilize campaign funds to pay the fees, MEC Director James Klahr said, which is not uncommon, but he emphasized that if that’s how they decided to pay that cost, it must be reported to the MEC as such.
But Curtis still has another option, too. He could appeal the decision, which Klahr also said that, under the MEC provisions, would essentially work as a stay.
Rep. Curtis says he will be appealing the order.
“A combination of a stolen campaign laptop with all of my financial records, a stolen campaign debit card, and 2 major bank errors led to discrepancies, inaccurate and late reports for which I take full responsibility for, but I will appeal to have the record accurately reflect those incidents and reduce the overall fine amount,” he said.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced 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.