Imagine what would happen if Nancy Pelosi, Democrat and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, owned a consulting firm, say, “Common Sense Liberal Consulting,” in which, as speaker, she took on clients who were also U.S. legislators, whose political futures depended on her decisions as the speaker of the House. That would be a convenient and lucrative business, no?
In other words, imagine if Pelosi charged her colleagues a consulting fee, all the while being in control of the legislative agenda they depended on for their political success, not to mention their political survival.
If you have successfully conjured up that image, then you have an idea of how Rod Jetton, the former speaker of the Missouri House, operated during his tenure, prior to Joplin’s own Ron Richard assuming that post. But that’s not the end of the story.
Jetton, who was term-limited out of the House in 2008, became a full-time consultant, and in the words of the Kansas City Star, “a conduit for campaign contributions greasing the legislative gears in Jefferson City.” While serving as House speaker, his consulting firm was aptly titled, “Common Sense Conservative Consulting.”
According to the Star’s report a few weeks ago:
From his office on High Street just blocks from the Capitol, Jetton now counts among his clients nearly the entire slate of House Republican leadership, key committee chairmen and a handful of senators.
What does all of this have to do with folks here in Southwest Missouri? Well, last spring, a bill in the House was approved (under Ron Richard’s leadership) that would change the way judges in Missouri are selected. Here is the Star‘s account:
Within days of a controversial vote last April in the Missouri House, rumors flew that a reward was coming for the Republican leaders who pushed it through.
And those rumors proved true. $25,000 poured in a week after the vote. Then $5,000. Then $50,000. Then $100,000, followed days later by another $25,000. And another $50,000.
The campaign contributions — more than $250,000 in all — came from an influential family, the Humphreys family of Joplin. The family held strong feelings about the issue at hand: changing the state’s judicial selection process.
The amount of money and the timing stunned some lawmakers.
Essentially, according to the Kansas City Star, the Humphreys, via services rendered by Rod Jetton, are major players in Missouri politics:
At the forefront of the fight has been the Humphreys family, owners of Joplin-based Tamko Building Products Inc. Tamko makes roofing products and other building materials. The company has been named in numerous asbestos lawsuits and boasts of a “very aggressive” litigation strategy.
Exactly why would the Humphreys, who are big-time contributors to many right-wing causes, be interested in the way Missouri’s judges are appointed? Read on:
Some companies believe that, through the political process, they can put judges on the bench who are more conservative and sympathetic to corporations.
Jetton and other House leaders have courted the Humphreys family for years. According to a Jetton confidant, who asked not to be identified, Jetton set a goal at the start of his reign as speaker to cultivate the Humphreys family first as $50,000 donors and then elevate the family to $100,000.
Jetton said he has met with David Humphreys twice over the years at his office in Joplin.
“I went down … and explained what we were doing. And I said, ‘If you like what you’ve seen, we need you to help us out,’ ” Jetton recalled. “And he was like, ‘I like it. I’ll help you.’ “
The judicial reform bill, which would alter Missouri’s judicial selection process, passed the House this year, after failing in 2008. And our own Ron Richard was right in the middle of its passage, as was Steven Tilley, who will be Richard’s replacement as House speaker in 2011, and—coincidentally, I’m sure—is one of Rod Jetton’s “clients”:
Proposals to alter the judicial selection process have come and gone over the years, but it wasn’t until this past April that one finally passed on an 85-72 vote in the House.
Suspicions arose almost immediately on both sides of the aisle. Several Republican lawmakers told The Star that their leadership held a series of closed-door meetings with freshman lawmakers and veterans who had voted against a similar bill in 2008.
“We got our asses chewed,” said one lawmaker who was called before the speaker. The lawmaker asked not to be identified.
Tilley, who as floor leader directs legislation in the House, told lawmakers the bill’s failure would be “unacceptable” and House Speaker Ron Richard bullied subordinates into supporting it, according to legislators’ accounts and contemporaneous memos.
Richard represents the Humphreys family’s hometown of Joplin. His spokeswoman, Kristen Blanchard, is the daughter of a Tamko executive.
Richard denied “twisting arms” and said he provided information about the bill only to lawmakers who asked for it. Tilley said party leaders did work to sway lawmakers on the issue, but he pointed out that “whipping” votes is a common legislative tactic.
“If it’s a bill that’s going to pass overwhelmingly, we never have to persuade anyone,” Tilley said. “But if it’s a bill that’s going to be close, we bring them in and we certainly advocate our position.”
Ultimately, 12 Republicans who voted “no” in 2008 supported the 2009 bill — enough to swing the final result — and the money started rolling in seven days later.
David and Debra Humphreys wrote a $25,000 check to Friends of Tilley, the floor leader’s campaign committee.
After the House vote, the Star reports:
Over the next several weeks, the Missouri Republican Party received $50,000 from David Humphreys. Humphreys gave $100,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, the fundraising PAC controlled by Tilley. And Humphreys’ mother, Ethel Mae, gave $25,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee — even though the bill had already died in the Senate when the General Assembly adjourned in mid-May.
The family provided for Richard as well, doling out contributions totaling $55,000 between May and August.
While even some Republicans around the state have raised questions about the propriety of these ethically challenged maneuvers, the Democrats have, naturally, been quite open in their criticism:
“There’s $250,000 for that vote,” said Rep. Trent Skaggs of North Kansas City. The Humphreys family “paid for the vote. It’s unbelievable.”
For now, the Missouri Senate has let the House plan die—as Ron Richard pointed out while also admitting the Humphreys’ “interest in the court plan”—so the Humphreys have not received a substantial return on their legislative investment—yet.
But my question is, how many news stories have you read in our local paper about this issue? Where has the Joplin Globe been?