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Here’s who’s behind ‘Relax PAC,’ the medical marijuana group that donated thousands to influence Missouri politics

Here’s who’s behind ‘Relax PAC,’ the medical marijuana group that donated thousands to influence Missouri politics

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JEFFERSON CITY — A former Dirt Cheap and MillerCoors executive whose political action committee donated thousands of dollars to Missouri campaigns is among leading players in Missouri’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry, according to a Post-Dispatch review of state records.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services on Tuesday released to the newspaper a list of more than 500 applications from businesses hoping to cash in on the state’s medical marijuana program.

A review of the data shows that Bradford Goette, a former business executive who serves as treasurer of the Relax PAC, is among the applicants for state licenses to produce and sell marijuana products. He seeks to open a marijuana-infused products manufacturing company in Fenton, and five dispensaries in Fenton, Festus, St. Peters, Troy and Cape Girardeau.

Goette was a former executive with a number of St. Louis-area businesses that share Fenton addresses and connections, including a company that donated $168,200 to the Relax PAC.

The Relax PAC donated $150,000 to an effort to legalize medical marijuana last year, but because of a method by which the PAC funneled most of the money through another group, the extent of the PAC’s role in the effort was not widely known.

All told, Goette’s Relax PAC gave $157,600 to candidates and causes last year, but the fact he’d applied to get into the business of selling medical marijuana was not a matter of public record until the Post-Dispatch won a court fight, forcing the state to turn over the names of medical marijuana applicants.

Goette did not return phone calls seeking comment. It is unclear what his political action committee hoped to gain by contributing to the campaign accounts of 12 Republican politicians and a group pushing for medical marijuana legalization.

His Relax PAC, formed in February 2018, received $168,200 from the Get Right Management Company LLC last year.

The two entities are connected to at least three St. Louis-area companies in the gas, liquor and tobacco industries that have shared Fenton addresses and executives: Dirt Cheap, tobacco company HUB Inc., and gas company PECL Holdings, formerly known as U-Gas Holdings.

• Craig P. Taylor, of Wildwood, owns Get Right Management LLC. He is PECL’s vice president, sits on HUB’s board of directors, and is a former executive with Dirt Cheap retail stores. He is also a former president of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association and was on the board of St. Louis-based Midwest Bankcentre.

• John W. Howald, a Hillsboro estate planning attorney, filed Get Right LLC’s incorporation with the state of Missouri. Howald is tied to HUB Inc. and a number of other limited liability companies in Missouri.

• Goette is the treasurer of HUB Inc., and a former executive with Dirt Cheap and U-Gas. He is also on the board of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association.

• Relax PAC’s deputy treasurer, Carrie Beckel, is HUB’s executive secretary, CFO of PECL Holdings and was listed as a contact for Get Right LLC in a February filing with the state of Missouri.

Missourians for Patient Care

A group called Missourians for Patient Care pushed an ultimately unsuccessful effort last year to legalize medical marijuana, Proposition C.

Though the proposition failed, voters approved Amendment 2, backed by a different group, that legalizes medical marijuana. The state is currently implementing that program.

As of November, Goette was president of the nonprofit Missourians for Patient Care.

The Post-Dispatch reported last July that a different organization by the same name, the Missourians for Patient Care political action committee, raised $505,000 between April and July 2018 in monetary contributions from the nonprofit.

The nonprofit did not have to reveal its donors. That means the nonprofit was able to accept money and then donate it to the political action committee, obscuring the original source of a contribution. Essentially, the nonprofit acted as a pass-through group meant to keep secret the sources of political donations.

Secret donations to the group were the subject of a March 2018 complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission by Springfield resident Howard Cotner, who argued the maneuver violated the Missouri Constitution by intentionally obscuring the source of donations. The ethics commission has not made a ruling on that case.

Last year, the Missourians for Patient Care nonprofit donated more than $1.2 million to the Missourians for Patient Care political action committee.

When asked last July why backers formed the nonprofit, which hid the source of the donations, Travis Brown, one of the proponents of the effort, responded: “Why not? We needed to raise money so we have a social welfare organization that supports the ballot committee.”

Brown said at the time Missourians for Patient Care would not comment on the ethics commission complaint. He also would not comment on whether he thought the group’s activities violated the law, despite an advisory opinion by the Missouri Ethics Commission that suggests the maneuvering was illegal.

“I’ll tell you one more time,” he said to a reporter, “we’re not commenting on any ethics commission opinions, filings or complaints.”

Brown is the CEO of Pelopidas LLC, a firm linked to mega-donor Rex Sinquefield. Former state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, is the committee’s treasurer.

Brown did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Nirvana Bliss

Goette’s planned medical marijuana chain is called Nirvana Bliss LLC.

His Relax PAC was formed on Feb. 1, 2018. That same day, it received $100,100 from Get Right Management Company.

The next day, on Feb. 2, Relax PAC donated a total of $100,000 to Missourians for Patient Care, state ethics commission records show.

On Feb. 5, records show, the Missourians for Patient Care nonprofit donated $100,000 to the Missourians for Patient Care political action committee.

Relax PAC made two more large donations to Missourians for Patient Care that spring: $25,000 on April 4, 2018, and $25,000 on May 14, 2018.

Only the April donation was contributed directly from Relax PAC to the Missourians for Patient Care PAC, state records show.

Relax PAC also played a role in the 2018 elections, donating a combined $7,600 to Republican candidates that year.

On Sept. 28, Get Right Management Company donated $2,600 to Relax PAC. That same day, Relax PAC donated $2,600 to Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s campaign, Schmitt for Missouri.

A similar maneuver occurred in March 2019. On March 29, Get Right Management Co. donated $2,500 to Relax PAC. That same day, the Missouri Opportunity PAC, formed to support Schmitt, received a $2,500 donation from Relax PAC.

Chris Nuelle, spokesman for the Missouri attorney general’s office, said the office will defend the state’s position in any licensing disputes that may arise as the state determines who gets to sell medical marijuana, and who doesn’t.

“The attorney general’s office will wall off lawyers if necessary under our conflict of interest policy, including the AG,” Nuelle said. “Our conflict of interest policy is in place to ensure the attorney general’s office is held to the highest possible ethical standard.”

The campaign of former state Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, received $500 from Relax PAC on Aug. 16, 2018. She said she likely received the check at a fundraiser.

She said she wasn’t aware of who is behind the PAC.

“I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “I hate to say that about a donor.”

The campaign of Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, received $250 from Relax PAC on Sept. 17.

The PAC’s address is listed as 1675 Fenpark Drive in Fenton, which is in Gregory’s 96th House District. Gregory did not return a phone call seeking more information about the donation.

Other recipients of PAC money include: now-state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican; House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold; Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial; Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit; Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis; Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville; Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City; and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan.

The Old Drum Conservative PAC, formed to support Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, also received $500.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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