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Steve Stenger sentenced to 46 months of prison

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, left, and lawyer Scott Rosenblum, center, leave federal court in St. Louis on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 after Stenger was sentenced to 46 months of prison for pleading guilty to pay-to-play charges. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

UNIVERSITY CITY — With former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger set to report to federal prison Saturday following his conviction for pay-to-play corruption, a group of local political activists called Monday night for a publicly funded campaign finance system in St. Louis County.

The “Honest Elections Act” proposal was put forward during a forum about money in politics and corruption held at the Kol Rinah Congregation and sponsored by the St. Louis County NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis and political action groups Show Me Integrity and American Promise St. Louis.

Six of seven St. Louis County Council members attended the event and took questions from audience members about reforms to St. Louis County government. And all of them said they were leaning toward supporting the campaign finance proposal — with the caveat that the county would need to find the money, estimated at several million dollars a year, to do it.

“When you leave, go out and start selling this to people you know,” St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, told the audience of around 200 people.

The proposal would allow candidates to opt in, and participating candidates would agree to not accept donations of more than $250 or from corporations or those doing business with the county.

Registered voters would receive two publicly funded $25 vouchers for county races that they could contribute to candidates of their choice.

The County Council could pass the proposal as an ordinance or send a charter change to county voters. But the county is dealing with a deficit and room would need to be found in the budget for such a system. 

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, announced a separate reform proposal Monday banning bidders and lobbyists from communicating with county officials while contracts are out to bid. In that announcement, Page encouraged people to attend the forum Monday night and said he invited the sponsoring organizations to meet with him about the proposal.

“I value public input and I’m encouraged that these organizations are taking an interest in the work we are doing to clean up county government,” Page said in a statement.

Page did not attend, but senior staffer Hazel Erby was there.

The event featured a range of speakers, including St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, St. Louis County NAACP President John Bowman and former St. Louis County Executive candidate and businessman Mark Mantovani.

Even the federal prosecutor who led the Stenger corruption cases, Hal Goldsmith, made some remarks at the event.

He gave a nod to the County Council for its “substantial cooperation” in the Stenger investigation, and, referencing Stenger’s 2018 reelection victory even after many pay-to-play allegations had been made public, said the public needs to hold elected officials accountable.

“Too many people viewed what (Stenger) was doing as politics as usual,” Goldsmith said.

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