JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Republican Party, in two separate checks cut in November and January, gave a combined $200,000 to a political action committee tied to the party’s then-Chairman Todd Graves.
The spending has left a bad taste in some officials’ mouths. The payments — made to a PAC pushing a redistricting initiative for 2020 — were made as Graves was ending his term as party chair.
Since then, party leaders have recommended tighter financial controls, and officials have forbidden any more spending on initiative petition efforts.
Officials have said the party is grappling with stressed finances, exacerbated by a recent tornado that destroyed the GOP’s downtown Jefferson City office. Party officials said last weekend they would “refocus” and “streamline” operations ahead of the 2020 elections.
Jean Evans, executive director of the state party, said the party’s executive committee had recently decided not to spend any more money on initiative petitions.
“Financially that’s just not something we have the resources for,” she said. “It’s outside our mission. Our mission is to elect Republicans.”
The payments in question were made after the November 2018 elections, after voters approved Amendment 1, known as Clean Missouri. The measure changes the way state legislative districts are drawn and could give Democrats more seats in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
On Nov. 21, the Missouri Republican State Committee paid $150,000 to Fair Missouri for what is described as “polling and research,” according to Federal Election Commission records. On Jan. 17, the same committee paid an additional $50,000 to the same group, according to the FEC.
The two payments represent the bulk of contributions Fair Missouri has received. The only other contribution was $941 on March 25 from a group called Advance Missouri.
Fair Missouri and Advance Missouri are both tied to Graves, who was chairman when the checks were written. His replacement, Kay Hoflander, was elected to the post on Jan. 26.
Fair Missouri lists William Greim Jr. as its treasurer. William Greim is the brother of Eddy Greim, who is Graves’ law partner at the Kansas City-based Graves Garrett law firm.
Advance Missouri’s address was listed as 1100 Main Street, Suite 2700, in Kansas City, the same address as the Graves Garrett law firm.
Graves did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did William Greim.
Pat Thomas, treasurer of the state party, said “no” when asked if the GOP is receiving status reports from Fair Missouri.
“Those donations have been made,” she said. “The group acts as a totally separate entity to the Missouri Republican Party.”
“It’s a substantial investment,” said John Hancock, who preceded Graves as party chairman. “It’s probably not unprecedented for parties to work with other committees to meet their objectives. I don’t ever recall having done it when I was chairman or executive director.”
Missouri Ethics Commission records show Fair Missouri had spent $73,516 as of April 1.
Records show Annapolis, Md.-based On Message Inc. on Feb. 1 received $40,415 for consulting services. Strategic Capitol Consulting, a firm founded by lobbyist Steve Tilley, received $30,000 for consulting on March 26.
Fair Missouri has not filed any proposed initiatives with the secretary of state’s office to strike the redistricting changes, meaning backers likely want to avoid the costly effort of gathering the roughly 160,000 signatures needed to place a question on the ballot.
An easier route would be to convince lawmakers to place the question on the ballot. An effort to do so failed in the closing days of this past legislative session, but lawmakers may still place the question on the 2020 ballot next legislative session.
Missourians First, the group that opposed Clean Missouri last year, may also reemerge to push GOP lawmakers to act.