David Humphreys really wants Republican Josh Hawley to be the next attorney general of Missouri.
How much so?
To date, Humphreys and members of his family — they own Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products — have given at least $3.5 million to Hawley’s campaign.
The actual number, though, could be even higher. That’s because Hawley has also received more than $3 million from an arm of the Republican Attorney Generals Association.
Donors to RAGA might not be known until after the election. Viewed together, the $6.5 million is more than 90 percent of what Hawley has raised.
Why would one very wealthy man want to see a political newcomer elected to the attorney general’s office?
The answer might be found in the warped roofing shingles atop a Jasper County church.
In September 2007, the Jonesburg United Methodist Church bought Heritage Series Shingles from TAMKO for its roof. The shingles, according to court records, were marketed as being “durable, reliable and free from defects for at least 30 years.”
By 2013, the Jonesburg church had leaks in its ceiling it attributed to the failed shingles.
Around the same time, another Jasper County man, Lee Hobbs, was having similar issues with the same kinds of shingles. Many other homeowners reported similar problems.
In April 2014, Jonesburg and Hobbs filed a class action lawsuit against TAMKO, alleging a violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practicing Act. The company argued that the plaintiffs didn’t have a right to sue because every package of TAMKO shingles contains an “arbitration clause” on its wrapping. Lawyers for Humphreys’ company sought to force Jonesburg, Hobbs and the other class members into arbitration.
The Southern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals agreed with the church.
“Plaintiffs’ retention and use of the shingles does not prove that they accepted the terms to arbitrate their disputes in the case,” a unanimous panel wrote.
A month before the decision was filed, Humphreys and two of his family members wrote their first checks to Hawley, for a total of $500,000. At the time Hawley was running in a heated GOP primary against Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia. Now he’s facing Democrat Teresa Hensley, the Cass County prosecuting attorney, in the general election.
Since the primary, the Humphreys’ investment has grown exponentially.
Here’s why that matters:
The U.S. Supreme Court is accepting arguments in the TAMKO case. It is possible the court will decide this month whether to weigh in on the case. The lawyer handling the case for TAMKO before the Supreme Court is Paul D. Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general. In 2014, Clement successfully argued the landmark Hobby Lobby case before the court, which allowed certain corporations to be exempt from federal contraception rules.
One of the lawyers who wrote briefs in that case? None other than Hawley, who has based much of his campaign on the Hobby Lobby case.
Perhaps the connection of those dots are a mere $6 million coincidence. Humphreys was out of town and couldn’t be reached for comment for this column. Hawley says he’s “very proud” to have the support of the Humphreys family. He says he has never discussed the class action suit with the Humphreys.
Meanwhile, the class action suit continues in Jasper County, with the plaintiffs having at least temporarily won the right to take their dispute to before a jury.
But regardless of what happens in either circuit court or the Supreme Court, it is possible the next attorney general could have an effect on the outcome of the case.
That’s because the merchandising practices act gives the attorney general in Missouri wide-ranging powers to intervene in class action lawsuits filed under Chapter 407 of the state statutes.
Count attorney Eric Holland of St. Louis among those who have a problem with Humphreys donating millions of dollars to Hawley’s campaign while the class action lawsuit is pending.
“I think it’s outrageous,” says Holland, who represents Hobbs and the Jonesburg church. “It demonstrates that Citizens United is the worst Supreme Court decision of my lifetime.”
Because Missouri is one of the few states to allow unlimited campaign contributions, the Citizens United decision has little effect on Humphreys’ ability to donate $3 million and counting to Hawley. But it opened the door to the anonymity of federal super PACs, and that has allowed somebody to add the anonymous stench of an additional $3 million to Hawley through the Missouri Freedom PAC.
So while homeowners and others try to recoup money from the allegedly faulty shingles protecting their biggest investment, the wealthy mega-donor fighting them is trying to handpick Missouri’s next attorney general.
“For Humphreys to funnel millions to politicians and then dispute his customers’ ability to recover damages against him, there’s something wrong with that picture,” Holland says.
In Missouri, though, buying an attorney general is as easy as buying a package of roofing shingles.
The 30-year warranty costs extra.