JEFFERSON CITY • A Springfield man is asking state election regulators to investigate potential fundraising problems associated with an initiative to legalize medical marijuana.
At issue is an arrangement between the Missourians for Patient Care ballot initiative and a separate, similarly named corporation that has been funneling contributions to the campaign.
In a letter to the Missouri Ethics Commission on behalf of Springfield resident Howard Cotner, attorney Matt Vianello of the Clayton-based Jacobson Press law firm said the arrangement is allowing organizers of the campaign to keep the names of donors secret.
“Ultimately, the question that is raised is that this seems to be clearly designed to hide the donors. I think that runs afoul of the Missouri Constitution,” Vianello said.
The allegations come as Missourians for Patient Care is among at least three attempts underway to put a marijuana legalization question before voters in 2018.
The effort is being backed by former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and former state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis. It would change state statutes to make marijuana legal for medical use in helping to treat cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable migraines, HIV/AIDS, terminal illness and other ailments.
If approved, the change would impose a 2 percent retail tax on medical marijuana, channeling revenue to early childhood education, veterans care, public safety and drug treatment.
Colona, an attorney who is listed as treasurer for both the campaign committee and the corporation, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In February, Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported that the group believes the secrecy is necessary because donors might be wary of contributing to a cause that is not recognized by the federal government.
“We set it up that way because most people who are supporters of it don’t want to be known,” lobbyist Mark Habbas said. “They just want to keep their donations private.”
According to the latest filing with the Missouri Ethics Commission, the political action committee has received $117,000 in donations, all from the nonprofit with the same name.
The maneuver is similar to one used by allies of Gov. Eric Greitens, in which donors give money to a nonprofit called A New Missouri Inc. that doesn’t have to file campaign reports. The nonprofit then gives to a political action committee.