WASHINGTON • Responding to opposition researchers probing her charitable foundation, Sen. Claire McCaskill on Tuesday detailed the activities of the foundation she and her husband, Joseph Shepard, established in 2013.
The Shepard Family Foundation is totally funded by McCaskill, D-Mo., and her husband, Joseph Shepard, and family members, the senator said. Decisions on where annual donations of $70,000 go are made on the Sunday after Thanksgiving each year by them and the couple’s children, McCaskill said. Each gets $10,000 to donate, she said.
“I’m pretty proud of it and how we do it,” McCaskill said.
Since 2014, the Shepard Family Foundation has given more than $400,000 to almost 50 organizations, many of them in the St. Louis area, according to a detailed list provided to the Post-Dispatch. They range from dog rescue groups to the NAACP, and from domestic violence groups to college preparation and scholarship programs. One $10,000 donation went to a group promoting improved relations with Cuba that had sponsored a McCaskill trip to that country.
But two donations, $15,000 to Planned Parenthood and $873 to the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, have raised red flags for Republican opposition researchers in this charged political environment. The $873 contribution was part of an intended $1,000 donation on behalf of former Missouri Rep. James Symington, and was reduced when McCaskill and her husband paid for their own meals at a November 2015 dinner at the Russian embassy because of the foundation’s rules, she said.
McCaskill said she attended the dinner because Symington, a mentor, was being honored as someone who has long been involved with efforts to improve cultural relations between Russia and the United States.
The American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation has on its board of directors the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Symington also sits on the board.
Kislyak’s meetings with current and former officials in the administration of President Donald Trump are one part of investigations into Russia’s influence on the 2016 American election by congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller.
McCaskill’s term is up in 2018. One of the groups probing McCaskill’s foundation donations in advance of that election has been the Senate Leadership Fund, which has connections to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and is an offshoot of American Crossroads, the political organization co-founded by GOP operative Karl Rove.
Referring to stories in March describing McCaskill appearing at events where Kislyak also attended after tweeting that she’d had no encounters with the Russian ambassador, Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack said the revelations about the donor and dinner at the Russian embassy continued a “web of lies” that McCaskill has constructed around her encounters with Kislyak.
But McCaskill said she had not even talked to Kislyak at that 2015 dinner, that the donation was at the behest of friends of Symington, and that Republicans and Democrats for years had supported the organization.
“They’d better call George Bush and the list of all the Republicans that have been involved in this over all the years,” McCaskill said, pointing out that several current and past Republican senators have served as honorary heads of galas or other events of the foundation. She said the effort by opponents trying to make a campaign issue of the donation to the Russian-American cultural group “is just them trying to be nasty.”
McCaskill said the $15,000 donation to Planned Parenthood was at the behest of a daughter. Republicans have long tried to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“One of my daughters believes very strongly in the charitable side of care given by Planned Parenthood,” McCaskill said. “… I could have said no, but that’s not the way we do this. We let each child decide.”
The Shepard Family Foundation has given $89,000 to College Bound, a St. Louis-based charity aimed at helping children in low-income families get into and succeed in college. The foundation gave $30,000 to the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, $28,000 to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America, and $25,000 to the NAACP.