Government & Politics

Ethics complaint accuses Missouri Senate leader’s ally of unregistered lobbying

A complaint filed this week with the Missouri Ethics Commission alleges an adviser to a prominent Republican donor at the center of pay-to-play allegations violated state law by never registering as a lobbyist.

The complaint asks the Missouri Ethics Commission to investigate the relationship between southwest Missouri political consultant Paul Mouton, Joplin businessman David Humphreys and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard.

The complaint was filed by retired postal worker and college professor Jim Hight of Joplin. He believes Mouton may have been lobbying without registering with the Ethics Commission, a violation of state law.

Richard has been dogged with pay-to-play allegations all year over a bill he sponsored that would benefit a company owned by Humphreys. Along with his family, Humphreys contributed more than $14 million last year to various candidates and campaigns.

Mouton is widely considered to be Humphreys’ eyes and ears in the state Capitol. He’s also linked to Richard, whose campaign paid Mouton $24,000 since 2014 for consulting and research.

Hight said he was inspired to file his complaint after revelations in May that Richard’s office was regularly reserving a parking spot for Mouton in the Senate’s private Capitol garage.

According to records maintained by the Senate Administrator, Mouton had a parking spot reserved for him by Richard’s office 19 times in April and early May last year. The Senate was only in session 20 days during that period.

A parking spot was reserved for Mouton 13 times in January and February this year, a span in which the Senate was in session 26 days.

Several of the dates when Mouton had a parking spot reserved for him correspond with action on legislation supported by Humphreys. That includes the day this year that the legislation at the heart of the pay-to-play accusations was approved by a Senate committee.

The bill would have limited 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, Tamko Building Products, is facing a class-action lawsuit under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act alleging it sold defective shingles, a charge the company denies.

Richard declined to comment on his relationship with Mouton through his spokeswoman, although he previously has vehemently denied any accusations of wrongdoing. He has said his office tries to accommodate any parking request it gets from people who live in his district.

Neither Mouton nor Humphreys responded to requests for comment by The Star.

Hight, who said he has been involved in local Democratic politics, said the frequency with which Mouton was in Jefferson City leads him to believe he was in the Capitol lobbying for either Humphreys or his company.

“I’m just concerned that the law isn’t being followed,” Hight said in an interview with The Star.

State law defines a lobbyist as a person who tries to influence the legislature in the ordinary course of their employment or who spends more than $50 on behalf of a public official. Those who fall under that category must register with the Ethics Commission and file monthly reports detailing any spending. Failure to register is a Class A misdemeanor.

James Klahr, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said his agency cannot disclose whether a complaint was received.

Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat who has been vocal in accusing Richard and Humphreys of pay-to-play politics, said he is optimistic the ethics commission will take all appropriate actions.

“If a freshman legislator from a swing-district can uncover this much inappropriate activity with only a few phone calls and requests, I imagine that the subpoena powers and investigative tools of the ethics commission may uncover much more,” he said. “I have faith in the independence of the (Ethics Commission), and in the work that I know they will put in rooting out pay-to-play and lobbying-from-the-shadows.”

In 2015, the Ethics Commission fined a conservative activist $1,000 for failure to register as a lobbyist. That decision was eventually thrown out by a Cole County judge. The judge said the original complaint that sparked the ethics commission ruling was invalid because it was filed by a group instead of a person.