JEFFERSON CITY | A Democratic lawmaker whose most recent Missouri House term was delayed a month until he paid ethics fees has found more trouble with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
The Ethics Commission assessed $30,585 in fees against Leonard “Jonas” Hughes IV and his campaign committee Hughes for the House, after concluding various rules were broken. The action was taken last week but not publicized until Monday.
Among the findings, the commission concluded Hughes converted $5,182 of campaign contributions for personal use and wrongly made 20 payments in cash – worth $3,402 – for expenses that exceeded $50. In addition, it says Hughes' campaign did not file finance reports due in July and October of 2011 and this past January, and submitted a report 32 days late.
Hughes, who argued that the Ethics Commission has not treated him and others fairly, denied using campaign funds for personal uses. He said the commission's definition for campaigning is ambiguous and that cash was withdrawn from campaign accounts for legitimate purposes such as paying workers who do not have bank accounts and for food on Election Day. Hughes also said he no longer has any campaign accounts.
“The way it's portrayed to the public, it's as if we're criminals, and we're not criminals, and they have no right to portray us in a way such as that,” Hughes said. He added: “The way they destroy people's lives is unethical.”
Hughes, 32, said he will appeal. The Kansas City lawmaker first was elected to the Missouri House in 2004 and is barred by term limits from seeking re-election this year.
The Ethics Commission said Hughes did not attend a hearing last week in the case, was not present for two depositions and never gave a meaningful response. Hughes said Monday that he didn't see a way to win and that he is not optimistic about the chances for his appeal.
Much of the penalty Hughes would pay still could be reduced if he pays a portion within 45 days and does not commit additional violations during the next two years. If he complies, Hughes would need to pay about $10,785.
The Ethics Commission detailed the most recent ethics case against Hughes into seven counts. The commission pointed to several examples to explain its conclusion that Hughes converted funds for personal uses. Among them were seven checks totaling about $966 that were issued to Hughes from an unreported bank account and another check for $230 that was issued from a campaign account for Virgil Troutwine and ultimately endorsed by Hughes. Troutwine's signature did not appear to be anywhere on the check.
The commission also opted to notify the chairman of the House Ethics Committee of its findings. Officials said this is the first time in at least three years that it has taken that step. Ethics Commission Executive Director Julie Allen said the commission considers the violations serious and that there have been past issues involving Hughes.
“The commission order lays out Rep. Hughes' continued disregard for the law and his ongoing violation of the campaign finance laws,” Allen said. She added that the case is a good example for why Missouri needs a potent ethics law with strong enforcement mechanisms for the Ethics Commission.
Missouri's most recently approved state ethics law was invalidated earlier this year by the state Supreme Court because of the way it was passed.
Last January, Hughes could not join fellow House members when they were sworn into office because he owed $19,090 in fees to the state Ethics Commission. He was required to pay $6,090 for filing late campaign finance and financial disclosure statements in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. The commission also levied a $13,000 fee in 2008 after concluding he did not report all campaign donations and expenses and used some political funds for personal uses.