Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

Mystery money tied to McKee slips into Missouri attorney general race

  • 0
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks to the press, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, to announce the findings of the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members in the Roman Catholic Church. Schmitt's office will refer 12 former clergy members for potential criminal prosecution. Photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis-based company that contributed to a committee supporting Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s election will not disclose anything about itself.

The EC I Fund donated $10,000 on Tuesday to the MO Opportunity PAC, which was formed in support of Schmitt’s 2020 election bid.

“We cannot comment as to EC I Fund LLC, its owners, or its activities,” Patricia Bland, a St. Louis lawyer whose name is listed on state forms, said in an email.

State records and interviews connect the fund to P. Joseph McKee III, the son of developer Paul McKee Jr., whose NorthSide Regeneration had recently been entangled in a state lawsuit alleging tax credit fraud.

The contribution represents a fraction of the more than $670,000 the MO Opportunity PAC has secured this year, but it raises questions about whether the attorney general’s office can, or should, wall off Schmitt from cases that may involve EC I Fund officials — especially if the identities of those officials are unknown.

Schmitt, a Republican, will likely face Democrat Elad Gross in the November 2020 general election; Gross has pledged not to accept corporate money.

“The Attorney General’s Office has a strong conflict of interest policy, and we work every day to be as professional and ethical as possible,” Chris Nuelle, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email.

He directed further questions to Schmitt’s campaign. Three campaign officials did not return multiple phone calls. Carl Struby, treasurer of the MO Opportunity PAC, said he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media and hung up the phone.

The EC I Fund has made political contributions in the past.

Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Nixa, received $2,600 from the fund when he was running for state Senate last year.

“The person I got it from was Joe McKee,” he told the Post-Dispatch.

P. Joseph McKee III is the CEO of Paric Corp., a St. Louis construction company.

Schmitt’s office settled with the elder McKee’s company, NorthSide Regeneration, in June for $323,930 and agreed not to pursue future claims against the developer for its use of a now-lapsed tax credit. The lawsuit originally sought repayment of $2.6 million in tax credits.

Schmitt’s campaign in March accepted a $2,600 contribution from LB Eckelkamp, a frequent GOP donor, and executive at the Bank of Washington in Franklin County. The Bank of Washington is one of NorthSide Regeneration’s largest creditors.

Burlison said he didn’t remember whether the younger McKee was in charge of the EC I Fund or was just tied to it. Regardless, Burlison said he wrote in his ledger he needed to send McKee a thank you note.

McKee did not respond to two requests for comment.

In 2018, a Joe McKee donated to state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, using the same Clayton address “165 N Maramec (sic)“ as EC I Fund, according to ethics commission records.

Eigel said the McKee he accepted a contribution from was the CEO of Paric, P. Joseph McKee III.

Paul Joseph McKee III donated $500 directly to Schmitt’s campaign in November 2018, records show.

Besides the Burlison check, EC I Fund has made three contributions since its formation in 2016: $2,500 to former Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign in 2016; $4,600 in February 2018 to CL PAC, which has become the political contribution vehicle for World Wide Technology Chairman David Steward; and $5,000 to the campaign of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger in April 2018.

Conflict of interest

Former Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, announced a conflict-of-interest policy after a New York Times investigation in 2014 found his office demonstrated a pattern of easing up on companies that had donated to his campaign.

The policy banned contributions from entities under investigation by the attorney general’s office. A 2015 audit found the state agency had not formally adopted the policy.

Koster’s campaign for governor, meanwhile, said then it had “implemented the most stringent conflict of interest policy of any Attorney General in the nation.”

It relied on donors to self-report whether they were under investigation. Schmitt’s campaign, which is separate from the MO Opportunity PAC, said Thursday that it asks donors to certify that they are not under investigation.

An attorney general’s office deputy said in the 2015 audit it was unrealistic to expect a campaign to police the issue because only the attorney general’s office knows what it is investigating.

Nuelle, Schmitt’s spokesman, said the office’s current policy is the same as Koster’s and includes additional safeguards added under former Attorney General Josh Hawley, he said.

The proliferation of PACs complicates the creation of conflict of interest policies — the donations to MO Opportunity PAC aren’t directly tied to Schmitt.

Schmitt has a campaign account, but in 2016, voters limited contributions to the traditional accounts to $2,600.

Big-dollar contributions now flow to PACs, not campaigns. Candidates cannot form, control or direct the committees, but their campaigns can coordinate fundraising efforts.

The Post-Dispatch reported in July that the MO Opportunity PAC received $2,500 from the pro-cannabis Relax PAC, whose leadership includes some of the biggest players in the state’s medical marijuana industry.

The attorney general’s office would defend the state in any lawsuits filed by companies that don’t win medical marijuana business licenses later this year.

If any disputes were connected to Relax PAC leadership, Nuelle said the office’s conflict of interest policy might kick in to wall Schmitt off from the case.

“The attorney general’s office will wall off lawyers if necessary under our conflict of interest policy, including the AG.“

Hiding contributions

Limited-liability company registrations have ballooned since 1994, when the secretary of state recorded 2,289 new LLCs, or 12% of all new companies that year.

In 2013, limited-liability companies made up 89% of all new business registrations, with 41,762 new LLCs that year, according to a 2014 report.

LLCs protect their owners from personal liability. They allow secrecy and are often used in real estate transactions. Greitens, for example, used the LLC J & J Escape to purchase his Innsbrook Resort lake home in Warren County.

Lawyers or others can register with the secretary of state, leaving company owners off of public records.

The EC I Fund’s attorney, Bland, listed the location of her Clayton law firm — Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal P.C. — as the fund’s address.

Bland registered with the state on Sept. 8, 2016. She listed National Corporate Research, now Cogency Global, as the fund’s registered agent.

In 2018, the EC I Fund’s address was changed to 9666 Olive Boulevard in St. Louis County, the same address as Cogency Global.

Cogency, on its website, says it assists companies with state paperwork. Companies like Cogency often appear on paperwork as a company’s registered agent, not an actual company owner.

Missouri law forbids donations made in “such a manner as to conceal the identity of the actual source of the contribution.”

Greitens, a Republican, faced allegations in May 2018 that he accepted money from so-called “shell companies“ in order to illegally conceal donor identities.

At the time, a Missouri House committee investigating the governor did not focus on or mention the EC I Fund’s $2,500 contribution to Greitens’ campaign, zeroing in on two other companies that had contributed much more.

Liz Ziegler, director of the state ethics commission, said a contribution to a PAC from an LLC is “not in and of itself a violation.” She said she could not comment on the legality of any specific contributions.

0 Comments

Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

Trending

National News

News