Government & Politics

Ethics complaint against big Missouri campaign donor is dismissed

Joplin businessman David Humphreys and his family donated more than $14 million to mostly Republican candidates and campaigns last year.
Joplin businessman David Humphreys and his family donated more than $14 million to mostly Republican candidates and campaigns last year.

A complaint accusing one of the state’s most prolific campaign donors of knowingly employing an unregistered lobbyist was dismissed last week by the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat, filed the complaint in October against David Humphreys, a Joplin businessman who along with his family donated more than $14 million to mostly Republican candidates and campaigns in 2016.

At the center of the complaint was Paul Mouton, who was fined last year for illegally lobbying lawmakers and their staff on Humphreys’ behalf during the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions without registering with the ethics commission.

Mouton has long been considered Humphreys’ eyes and ears in the Missouri Capitol. Records show he had a parking spot reserved for him in the Missouri Senate’s garage by Sen. Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, 19 times in April and early May in 2016, a period when the legislature was in session for 20 days; and 13 times in January and February 2017, a span in which the legislature was in session 26 days.

A person violates state law if they lobby the legislature without registering with the ethics commission and disclosing whom they are working for. But it is also illegal to knowingly employ someone to lobby who is not registered with the ethics commission.

Those found to be in violation of that law can be fined $10,000 for each violation.

Ellebracht asked the ethics commission to fine Humphreys $10,000 for every time Mouton had a parking spot in the Senate garage, and thus presumably would have been in the Missouri Capitol lobbying for Humphreys.

That would have totaled $320,000.

In a letter to Humphreys last week dismissing Ellebracht’s complaint, Missouri Ethics Commission Executive Director James Klahr said his staff determined Mouton began working for Humphreys in 2011. Even if he was lobbying on Humphreys’ behalf, Klahr said, it was not possible to determine whether Humphreys knew Mouton was engaged in activities that required him to register as a lobbyist.

“While Mr. Mouton did spend time at the Capitol to keep you up-to-date on the legislative developments regarding particular legislation,” Klahr wrote to Humphreys, “there is insufficient evidence that you knew you were employing a person required to register as a lobbyist.”

Ken Spain, Humphreys’ spokesman, said in an email to The Star that the ethics commission was right to dismiss the complaint.

“Mr. Humphreys,” Spain said, “remains committed to supporting causes and ideas he strongly believes in.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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