Sen. Caleb Rowden said a newly-created group — which says it’s made up of University of Missouri faculty and students — spread “misinformation” about his campaign as it arose just ahead of the election. The group is also affiliated with Judy Baker, his Democratic opponent, Rowden said Sunday.
The University of Missouri Land-Grant Council Leadership created Facebook and Twitter accounts in October (the Facebook account was created Oct. 27) and has used the platforms to accuse Rowden of having “deceived voters.” Specifically, it is critical of Rowden touting support from a separate group, the University of Missouri Flagship Council.
Rowden said the Land-Grant Council Leadership Group was created only five days ago by a member of Baker’s campaign, Zach Hedrick.
Hedrick did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. Josh Ellenburg, who identified himself as a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and treasurer of the Land-Grant Leadership Council, later said Hedrick only “volunteered some time” to assist in the creation of the group.
“In an attempt to mislead voters, Judy Baker set up a fraudulent, fake entity and online presence with the only motivation to distract mid-Missourians from the irrefutable truth that I am supported by the UM Flagship Council PAC, and those who care about Mizzou know I am the better choice in this race,” Rowden said in a blog post.
“I am stunned that Judy Baker and her campaign stood up a fake organization just days before an election — using similar imagery to the Flagship Council — in a desperate attempt to mislead voters,” the Republican lawmaker continued. “Judy Baker should apologize immediately for this blatant disinformation campaign.”
In response, Baker told The Missouri Times: “Flagship Council PAC [is] a separate entity filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission that operates as a political action committee. Rowden is not endorsed by the University of Missouri or the University of Missouri Flagship Council. Rowden’s confusion and allergy to the truth continues in his attacks on the newly formed and independent University of Missouri Land-Grant Leadership Council, which is a political action committee filed with the MEC.”
The Land-Grant Council’s Twitter account only has three tweets: one promoting its mission and two others accusing Rowden of “misrepresenting a recent letter as an endorsement from the University of Missouri Flagship Council.”
The council also sent out a press release to reporters, including The Missouri Times, on Oct. 29 saying it planned to file a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) over the letter.
The letter in question is from Tom Rackers, the lobbyist for the University of Missouri Flagship Council which Rowden shared on Oct. 16.
“The simple fact is that this is the most important vote you will ever make for the future of our university. We must re-elect Senator Rowden,” Rackers said. “Folks, this is not a partisan issue. We all know the impact our flagship institution has not only on the mid-Missouri area, but the state as well. It is about the next four years and the future of our public research and land-grant university.”
Neither the University of Missouri Land-Grant Council Leadership nor the University of Missouri Flagship Council are affiliated with the University of Missouri, a spokesperson for the university system told The Missouri Times.
In its press release, the Land-Grant Council shared comments from former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Margie Sable, a professor emerita of the University of Missouri. Both accused Rowden of “misrepresent[ing]” the support.
Rowden and Baker are locked in a tight battle for SD 19. Baker has more than $67,000 cash on hand, according to the latest filing reports. Rowden, who serves as the majority floor leader in the upper chamber, boasted nearly $135,000 in his war chest.
The University of Missouri Land-Grant Leadership Council’s mission says it was “created to promote the interests of the University of Missouri System without a partisan division.” It encompasses faculty members, alumni, and students, it says.
This story has been updated.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.