Government & Politics

Pay to play? Missouri Senate leader faces questions about consumer protection bill

Senate leader Ron Richard: 'Tell him to kiss my ass'

Senate President pro temp Ron Richard responded to questions in April about a bill he sponsored that would benefit a major donor.
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Senate President pro temp Ron Richard responded to questions in April about a bill he sponsored that would benefit a major donor.

Six days after Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard filed legislation seeking to make big changes to Missouri’s consumer protection law, he got a $100,000 check from Joplin businessman David Humphreys.

The timing of that Dec. 7 donation, and the fact that the legislation in question could undercut a class-action lawsuit against Humphreys’ company, has stirred allegations of pay-to-play against Richard and calls for an investigation.

Richard, a Joplin Republican, has vehemently denied any accusations of wrongdoing. He declined to comment to The Star on Monday. An attorney for Humphreys said the businessman had “exercised his constitutional right to donate money to political campaigns” and had done nothing illegal.

Over the weekend, Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican who has had run-ins with both Humphreys and Richard in the last year, said the situation warrants the attention of law enforcement.

“The facts are (Richard) received large contributions. He filed legislation that would dismiss a lawsuit against the people who made those contributions,” Silvey said during an interview with KCUR’s “Statehouse Blend.” “It’s not for me to determine motive. It’s not for me to determine if there was a quid pro quo.”

He later said: “There are law enforcement agencies in the state or federal government, and if any of them have taken notice, I’m sure they would do their job.”

Silvey’s comments echo those of state Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat who last month wrote a letter to Richard demanding more details on his relationship with Humphreys.

Ellebracht noted that Richard received $200,000 from Humphreys last year, despite the fact that he was not running for office.

“Missourians deserve to know if their government is for sale,” Ellebracht said.

Because of term limits, Richard will not be able to run for re-election next year. But he donated nearly $500,000 from his campaign war chest to help Republican Senate candidates across the state who were running last fall.

That helped Richard secure his place in leadership, Ellebracht said, because senators vote to elect a president pro tem and majority leader. So the donations from Humphreys are extremely valuable, he said, even though Richard’s name didn’t appear on the ballot.

Richard’s legislation would limit plaintiffs’ ability to sue individually or in class-action lawsuits under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, a law that prohibits deceptive and unfair business practices.

Humphreys’ company, Joplin-based Tamko Building Products, is facing a class-action lawsuit under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act saying it sold defective shingles. The company denies any wrongdoing.

Humphreys and his family have given millions in political contributions to Missouri Republicans in recent years. In addition to the $200,000 in donations to Richard last year, the Humphreys family doled out more than $14 million to various candidates and committees in 2016.

As for the timing of Humphreys’ contribution to Richard on Dec. 7, “there is a simple explanation,” a lawyer representing Humphreys and Tamko said Monday.

“At that time, Missouri law had not recognized campaign contribution limits. On December 8, 2016, however, Missouri law was to change, imposing hard caps on certain campaign contributions,” lawyer Joe Rebein, with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, wrote in a letter to The Star. “... Because he was aware of the imminence of the change, Mr. Humphreys made several contributions” on Dec. 7.

In fact, Rebein wrote, Humphreys made 13 donations that day, and the donation to Richard amounted to “less than 6 percent of the funds Mr. Humphreys donated that day.”

Rebein said any pay-to-play accusations against Humphreys are “false and defamatory.”

The lawsuit against Humphreys’ company was filed in 2014. Richard filed his first bill pertaining to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act in 2015 and has filed similar legislation each year since.

Silvey, who faced a Humphreys-funded opponent in his re-election bid last year and was passed over by Richard for position of chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, said the situation warrants an investigation by law enforcement, not simply a legislative committee.

“The people who sit on the ethics committee are the people we’re talking about,” Silvey said. “So I doubt we’d see them investigate themselves.”

Asked last month about Ellebracht’s allegations, Richard said, “Tell him to kiss my ass.”

“I don’t even like the question,” Richard said at the time. “And No. 2, there’s been no (more) ethical person in this building that’s been speaker of the House and president of the Senate and majority leader than me. So be careful what questions you ask. Go ask that guy.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock