How To Win Friends and Influence Missouri Politics: Starring Rod Jetton, Ron Richard, and the Humphreys Family

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.

ron richard and rod jettonAnd 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?

15 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  November 4, 2009

    Duane,

    Now this is interesting. Good “quoting” on your part. I give credit to the Star for the “reporting”. That is not said to denigrate your contribution to airing this issue in Joplin. Well done.

    Both you and the Star “paint a picture” or imply that Richards, et al took their position on judicial nominations out of financial incentives from the Humphries. The implication of contributions or actual contributions, according to the reporting, COULD HAVE BEEN as a result of encouragement beforehand from a powerful family.

    On the other hand, and not reported, IT IS POSSIBLE that Richards and others established their position on judicial nominations because they thought that it was the right thing to do and without undue influence from any powerful group or individual. It that was the case the contributions might well have been in support of a previously determined stand on the merits of such nominations.

    Who knows the answer. You can infer unethical bending to influence on the part of a politician(s). I can infer financial support being provided because the position had been taken without prior influence.

    No doubt a powerful family is going to give money to the causes they support. You do the same by writing about causes you support.

    We would have to “look into the heart” of each politician to see whether the chicken or the egg came first in this or similar cases. It really boils down to do “we” think Ron and others are men and women of principle or the kind of people up for the highest bidder.

    You and the Star at least imply, which is your every right, that the lader is the case. I have met Ron and “looked into his eyes”. I give him the benefit of the doubt in this case, though I am open to be proven wrong.

    Your blog did a good job pointing out some facts in the issue but did not provide the proof I need before establishing moral defects of character that I would totally reject. I would say the same if the target of the implications was a Democrat, by the way.

    Anson

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  2. Duane Graham

     /  November 4, 2009

    Anson,

    I appreciate the seriousness and tentativeness with which you addressed the issue.

    Let’s start with this salient fact first: My point in posting the piece was revealed at the end: Where has the Joplin Globe been?

    Frankly, I don’t think I–normally a careful reader of our local paper–should have to read in the KC Star about allegations of a wealthy Joplin family attempting to influence legislation through political donations to Republican political leaders, among whom is our own Ron Richard. Perhaps I missed the local story on it, but I attempted to search online for anything related to it and found nothing. I suppose the search engine could have missed it, and if so, then I would appreciate someone calling it to my attention.

    Second, the story does imply a connection between votes on the judicial selection bill and political pressure and political donations. No doubt about that. But don’t forget this from the article (emphasis mine):

    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.

    Now, that’s either poor and dishonest reporting, or there is some truth to the fact that at least the perception was that the judicial selection issue was elevated to a level of importance beyond historical proportions. Which is it? Beats me, but I believe it deserved (deserves) at least a mention in our local paper, don’t you?

    Obviously, I don’t have a problem with “a powerful family” giving money to causes it supports. That’s the American way. But when it gives money to politicians, and then those politicians inexplicably pressure their colleagues to vote for a piece of legislation potentially favorable to that family, that raises questions of propriety, not to mention law. And all the article did was point out the apparent fact that not only Democrats, but Republicans had suspicions about what was going on. It deserves further investigation, in my view.

    As far as your “look into the heart” and “I have met Ron and ‘looked into his eyes,'” obviously that is a highly subjective way of judging someone’s actions. Sometimes it’s right, and sometimes it’s wrong. But I did find something interesting in what you wrote:

    It really boils down to do “we” think Ron and others are men and women of principle or the kind of people up for the highest bidder.

    As far as casting votes for candidates for political office, you are exactly correct. What we “think” about the candidates’ integrity certainly determines whether we trust them to do the job, if we otherwise agree with their politics.

    But I often hear a different story from some conservatives (not necessarily you, though) about Barack Obama and the Democrats. “They are in bed with the unions,” they say frequently. “They have been bought by the trial lawyers,” they often rant. “Obama has always been a closet radical, even though he attempted to mislead the American people during the campaign last year,” you hear them say. And the more wild among them, which I have frequently documented, say “Obama hates America and wants to destroy it.”

    Such claims of dishonest politicking I suppose are common from extremists on both sides, but, still, when they are made, there are real people on the other side of those claims. I happen to feel the same way about Barack Obama that you do about Ron Richard, although I’ve never been close enough to him to “look into his eyes.” And like your position on Mr. Richard, I am reluctant to concede that Obama has “moral defects of character” without some kind of proof. So, I guess I’m saying I understand where you’re coming from.

    But merely raising the issue, as you apparently agree, is not wrong, particularly when there were Republicans who sensed something wasn’t right.

    And unless someone can point me to an article, our paper, the Joplin Globe, either missed it or ignored it.

    Duane

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  3. janereaction

     /  November 4, 2009

    It comes as no surprise that the Globe would studiously avoid any part of this news.

    When a greed-mongering political operative decides he will come up with a plan to fleece a wealthy family, and then proceeds to find something the patrons will support, based upon their own greedy purposes, and they subsequently provide a quarter of a million dollars to the operative, I don’t have to “infer” anything. Cause and effect is sufficient.

    I too appreciate the tenor of Ansons comment, however wishful and dismissive of wrongdoing it is.

    Like

  4. ansonburlingame

     /  November 5, 2009

    Now Jane,

    Don’t beat around the bush, just come right out and say what you mean. Am I correct in concluding that you think that based upon “their own greedy purposes” the Humphrey family gave $250,000 to the Republican Party in order to influence the vote on judicial nominations procedures?

    Am I further correct in concluding that you think Ron Richards and the Republican Party leadership voted in support of this bill as a direct result of the Humphrey contribution and thus their votes were “bought”?

    Am I finally correct in concluding that you think the Joplin Globe is in collusion with either the Humphrey family, Republican leadership or both?

    Put it out there girl and tell us the facts as you see them and so carefully deduce from your “cause and effect” analysis.

    Failure to reply will indeed put me in the dismissive category regarding your views.

    Anson

    Like

  5. janereaction

     /  November 5, 2009

    You made my case very well. Thanks Anson.

    Like

  6. ansonburlingame

     /  November 6, 2009

    Jane,

    Thank you for being honest. I assume I may quote you sometime.

    You know, you, Duane and I should meet for coffee in a public place sometime to have a discussion. I am really interested in what makes you “tick”. Was it a bad childhood?

    Anson

    Like

  7. janereaction

     /  November 6, 2009

    Knock yourself out quoting a nom de plume Anson.

    Like

  8. Anson,

    As a non-licensed pseudo-Buddhist, I’m beginning to suspect we share an interest in koans. Duane’s abnormal fascination with linear thinking is indeed puzzling to those of us who prefer spinning prayer wheels. I’ll admit that more than once I’ve retreated to my hovel/monastery and raked gravel after enduring his relentless pursuit of reasoned analysis. Personally, I don’t believe that B should automatically follow A. This may explain why I’ve been able to bluff my way through pesky eye exams.

    I, too, believe that Jane has suffered some type of childhood trauma. Perhaps she was raised by circus people. Something of an expert on how early exposure to toxic chemicals can trigger profoundly disturbing kindergarten nap time miscues, my theory is that Jane was left unattended with Eisenhower era nail polish remover.

    Like

  9. ansonburlingame

     /  November 6, 2009

    John,

    Ah, glue sniffing. I should have thought of that. Watch out for the racist, facist, sexist, all the other “ists” that may come your way now.

    Anson

    PS: Jane, why hide behind a nome de plume? Most of us here use our real ones. Afraid to show your bloomers for real??

    Like

  10. Your Wife

     /  November 7, 2009

    Anson, I do love you, but once again, you are wrong. In fact, in my view, all of you are wrong!

    At the least, there is not enough information to reach a sound conclusion re: contributions. One can only assume….which is what you are all doing. That is dangerous thinking…..Bush “assumed” there were weapons on mass destruction in Iraq…..and look where we are now!

    At the worst, you are all mean spirited with each other. “Do into others as you would…..” Remember?

    Like

  11. ansonburlingame

     /  November 7, 2009

    To All,

    My wife is right in saying “there is not enough information to reach a sound conclusion re: contributions”. I can only guess, but that may well be the reason for the Globe not making a big deal out of the Star “investigation”.

    Anson

    Like

    • Duane Graham

       /  November 7, 2009

      Anson’s wife and Anson,

      If you go back and re-read the original post, or if you read the original Star story, you will find that there were two issues raised, and they were not in the form of “accusations.” One was that there was an appearance of an improper quid pro quo, which highlighted Missouri’s rather laissez-faire approach to campaigns contributions. Newspapers typically don’t accuse people of wrongdoing, they just report the facts.

      Second, there was the issue I raised about the Globe‘s lack of attention to the issue. When two prominent Joplin citizens are involved in a months-long investigation by one of the largest newspapers in the state, most people would concede that there should have been a mention of it in our local newspaper, if the paper wants to maintain some semblance of credibility when it comes to covering local figures.

      Beyond that, I did not accuse anyone of anything. I used Nancy Pelosi as a comparison because I wanted my readers to imagine what would ensue, if she had done what Rod Jetton had done while he was speaker. Do you think the conservatives, particularly around this area, would simply give her the benefit of the doubt? Likewise, if a liberal politician would have received a boatload of cash from George Soros, after a vote favorable to George Soros, do you think they would say, “Ah, shucks, there’s no connection“?

      We all are ignoring the fact that in Missouri, the ethics are a bit knotted, when it comes to mixing cash, contributions, and conscience. That is the backdrop of this issue, and is exactly why something about the Richard-Humphreys issue should have appeared in the Globe.

      Finally, if you can point me to even one instance in which I was “mean-spirited” with anyone on this issue, I will immediately apologize.

      Duane

      Like

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