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Medical marijuana push in Missouri gets help from secret donations pouring in

Medical marijuana push in Missouri gets help from secret donations pouring in

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JEFFERSON CITY • An organization backing one of three competing medical marijuana initiatives in Missouri continued to pull in big-dollar contributions last quarter, though the origin of the vast majority of the haul is shrouded in secrecy.

The Missourians for Patient Care campaign committee raised $530,000 in monetary contributions between April and July — and a nonprofit corporation with the same name funneled $505,000 of that total to the group. The nonprofit does not have to reveal its donors.

Missourians for Patient Care also accepted $16,249 in in-kind contributions from the nonprofit last quarter. Another $36,800 came from in-kind donations from First Rule, a firm which lists the same Brentwood Boulevard address as the nonprofit and campaign committee.

The campaign committee spent nearly $500,000 last quarter on signature gathering and ended the reporting period with $31,000 in the bank.

Previous secret donations to the group were the subject of a March 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.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens employed similar tactics during his tumultuous tenure. Greitens started a nonprofit, A New Missouri, Inc., which was able to accept unlimited contributions without disclosing donors.

Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican who investigated Greitens, filed a complaint with the ethics commission last week accusing the Greitens campaign of illegally funneling donations through groups that do not have to reveal their donors.

Barnes' complaint followed a May opinion from the Missouri Ethics Commission targeting so-called "dark money" donations.

“Both the Missouri Constitution and Missouri campaign finance disclosure law contain prohibitions on making contributions to a committee with intent to conceal the identity of the actual source of the contribution,” James Klahr, then the commission's executive director, wrote in the opinion.

The ethics commission has not issued any findings on the Greitens complaint or the medical marijuana complaint.

When asked why backers 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 Missourians for Patient Care would not comment on any ethics commission complaints or opinions the watchdog had issued. 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 is the CEO of Pelopidas LLC, a firm linked to megadonor Rex Sinquefield. Former state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, is the committee's treasurer. He did not return a request for comment.

In February, Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported that the group believes the secrecy is 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.”

The proposal would change state statutes to make marijuana legal for medical use in helping to treat cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable migraines, HIV/AIDS, terminal illness and other ailments.

If approved, the change would impose a 2 percent retail tax on medical marijuana, channeling revenue to early childhood education, veterans care, public safety and drug treatment.

Two other groups collected signatures to place medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot. The secretary of state's office is supposed to certify signatures by mid-August and announce which groups gathered enough signatures to make the November ballot.

New Approach Missouri, which said in May it had submitted enough signatures, reported raising $75,119 last quarter and spending $76,657.

The group ended the fundraising quarter with $12,076 cash on hand.

A third effort, called Find The Cures by Dr. Brad Bradshaw of Springfield, had just under $80 in the bank after the campaign blew through more than $522,000 Bradshaw lent it since the beginning of the fundraising quarter. 

Marcus Leach, spokesman for the group, said Tuesday that it turned in enough signatures to make the ballot.

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