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Sinquefields among dark-money donors to group that backed medical marijuana question

Sinquefields among dark-money donors to group that backed medical marijuana question

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Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

St. Louis-area philanthropists Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield.

JEFFERSON CITY — Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield were among the dozens of donors to a failed medical marijuana ballot initiative whose organizers refused to release the names of contributors ahead of the November 2018 election.

The megadonors cut a $100,000 check weeks before the November election, and Great Saint Louis Inc., a group tied to Sinquefield, contributed an additional $875,000 to the effort, according to a Friday filing made with the Missouri Ethics Commission by the nonprofit Missourians for Patient Care Inc.

The donor disclosure came as part of a consent order the medical marijuana group signed with the commission. The action could foreshadow future moves by state ethics regulators to police politically active nonprofits, which haven’t been forced to reveal their donors to the ethics commission.

According to the order, posted online Friday, Missourians for Patient Care Inc. had failed to file disclosure reports with the state in violation of state ethics laws.

In 2018, the nonprofit was one of the only donors to a political action committee also named Missourians for Patient Care. The maneuver shielded the identities of the nonprofit’s donors.

The political action committee was formed in support of Proposition C, one of three competing medical marijuana initiatives on the November 2018 ballot.

Great Saint Louis Inc. contributed a majority of the more than $1.4 million the nonprofit raised during the 2018 election cycle.

Though Proposition C failed, voters did approve a competing petition, and the state is in the process of launching a medical marijuana program.

No donor disclosure

In February 2018, Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported that the group believed secrecy was 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,” said Mark Habbas, a lobbyist working on the campaign. “They just want to keep their donations private.”

Messenger also reported that Steve Tilley, a former Missouri House speaker and a registered lobbyist allied with Gov. Mike Parson, was involved in the effort.

Missourians for Patient Care’s secret donations were the subject of a March 2018 complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission by Springfield resident Howard Cotner, who alleged the group was violating the Missouri Constitution by intentionally obscuring donor identities.

The complaint didn’t stop the group’s dark-money maneuvers.

In July 2018, the Post-Dispatch reported that the nonprofit continued to donate to the PAC, which again obscured the true source of its donations.

When asked then why supporters formed the nonprofit to aid the campaign, Travis Brown, one of the main backers 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 in July 2018 that Missourians for Patient Care would not comment on the ethics complaint. He also would not comment on whether he thought the group’s activities violated the law.

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

Brown did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The consent order said Missourians for Patient Care hired the company First Rule for consulting work.

First Rule also is used by Parson. Records show his campaign paid the firm $5,000 for media services in 2019. Other Republicans who have paid the company in the past two years include Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, and Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring.

Other donors

The Post-Dispatch reported in July that Relax PAC, controlled by its treasurer Bradford Goette, donated $100,000 to Missourians for Patient Care in February 2018, according to a disclosure by Relax PAC.

Goette is the owner of Nirvana Bliss LLC, one of the companies vying to cash in on Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Those who donated at least $25,000 to the effort included Chesterfield-based Raymond Wagner Inc.; Richard and Michael Riesenbeck of Hannibal; Larry Malashock of Creve Coeur; the Michael Malashock Trust of Creve Coeur; Demeter St. Charles of Clayton; Craig Taylor of Fenton; and Pharmacopeia of Chesterfield.

Among other donations the nonprofit received: $20,000 from Andrew McCarney; $15,000 from PTK Properties of St. Charles; $10,000 from Barry Aycock of Parma, Missouri; and $10,000 from the company Natural Wellness of Gladstone, Missouri.

The first donation to the group, $100 on Sept. 27, 2017, was made by Brentwood Capital Partners LLC.

John Rallo, a former ally of disgraced County Executive Steve Stenger, has been listed as a partner of Brentwood Capital in the past, and is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to corruption charges last year.

Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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