Midwest Democracy | Candidate for Missouri governor beset by problems with late tax payments

Republican Dave Spence is running for Missouri governor on a simple platform: He’s a businessman, and Missouri is a business.

“I want to be the CEO of Missouri,” Spence tells audiences.

But an examination of tax and finance records shows that Spence, 54, or his companies have been late paying property, personal property, manufacturers’ and other taxes totaling tens of thousands of dollars dating to 1995, and as recently as 2010.

Democrats are seizing on the late tax payments as evidence that Spence isn’t qualified to be governor.

“Here’s a guy who only cares about himself and his own bottom line, not about the taxpayers,” said Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki.

Spence declined comment for this story. But his spokesman, Jared Craighead, called the tax allegations “a ridiculous Democratic attack that’s meant to distract from (incumbent governor) Jay Nixon’s dismal record on jobs.”

Craighead added that all of Spence’s taxes had been “paid in full.”

In some cases, Craighead said Democrats were referring to cases in which a Spence tenant was expected to pay the taxes. In other cases, the amounts are so small as to result in penalties of just a few dollars.

“Most Missourians understand you get busy,” Craighead said. “Dave’s been building a business, creating jobs, and occasionally things aren’t taken care of as promptly as we would like. They’re old issues.”

The late-taxes issue is yet another bump in the political road for Spence, who is running for public office for the first time and has suffered several stumbles since launching his campaign for governor last year.

In January, Spence changed his online biography to correct a claim about his degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia. Spence holds a home economics degree. But his biography on his campaign website originally omitted the word “home.”

Last December, Spence’s campaign distributed a flier in the St. Louis area that claimed he had attended the “University of Missouri-Columbia School of Business and earned a degree in economics.” But Spence never attended the university’s business school. His degree in home economics was awarded through a different school at the university.

Spence said later he didn’t know his campaign materials had included the claim about the business school.

“I have said all along that I will not or do not lie,” Spence told The Associated Press. “A lot of this is overblown.”

Last weekend the AP reported about Spence’s ties to a St. Louis area bank that made loans to him as a board member, even after the bank received a $40 million bailout from the federal government. Spence said he had done nothing wrong.

“I played by the rules,” he said.

But Spence acknowledged to the AP that he had voted with the rest of the Reliance Bancshares Inc. board in early 2011 to forgo payments to the government. That was a change in what he told two media outlets previously, which was that he had resigned from the board in part because of that decision.

Until December, Spence was president and chief operating officer of St. Louis-based Alpha Packaging, which employs 800 people in eight states and the Netherlands. Alpha Packaging manufactures plastic bottles for pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

Spence entered the governor’s race after fellow Republican Peter Kinder ended his campaign and opted to seek a third term as lieutenant governor. Three other GOP candidates also are in the race, although Spence is considered the most formidable because of his personal wealth. On the final day of November, for instance, Spence contributed $2 million to his own campaign.

Examples of Spence’s tax problems:

• In June 1995, the state of Missouri sued Alpha Packaging for unpaid manufacturers’ taxes and personal property taxes totaling $10,071. The court dismissed the case the next month. Craighead did not know whether the case was dismissed because the taxes were paid.

• In 2003 and 2009, Alpha Packaging was late in paying business personal property taxes in St. Louis County and was assessed interest and penalties. The 2003 taxes were paid on June 15, 2004, and included $63 in interest and $14 in penalties. The 2009 taxes were paid on Dec. 29, 2010, and included $42 in interest and $5 in penalties.

Craighead said Alpha Packaging had no record of interest or penalties paid in 2003. In 2009, Alpha failed to include one truck/tractor on its property tax declaration. Craighead called it an oversight.

• In 2007, Spence and his wife were penalized $1,609 for past-due property taxes on their St. Louis County home, which campaign officials did not dispute.

• In 2007, Spence and his wife were about six months late in paying taxes on their three vehicles and wound up paying $86 in interest and $16 in penalties. Craighead said confusion over whether Missouri taxes applied to a vehicle brought to the state from Utah caused the problem. “They were under the impression they did not have to pay it because it came from Utah,” he said.

• Alpha Packaging went more than three years — 2007 to part of 2010 — without paying a “local business tax” on a Jacksonville, Fla., plant. Craighead said the company discovered the issue itself and paid the tax.

• In 2007, a lien was filed against one of Spence’s businesses, Big Sky Properties, for more than $280,000 in unpaid bills related to building improvements. Craighead said a tenant was responsible for making the payments for the improvements, and the contractor filed a mechanic’s lien on the property. Spence wound up making the payments and was later reimbursed by the tenant.

• Big Sky Properties paid more than $23,000 in penalties and interest for late St. Louis County property taxes in 2008 and 2009. Craighead explained that “the renter (of the property) did not pay the taxes he was obligated to pay under the lease, and Dave had to step in and pay the taxes and was reimbursed.”

At a gathering at the St. Charles Pachyderm Club last month, Spence reportedly said: “We’re all paying taxes. We’re all contributing. We look in the mirror every single night and say, ‘I tried to do the right thing.’ And we got a lot of people that aren’t, and we’ve got to tighten it up.”