Government & Politics

Secret donor to Missouri PAC could be revealed following federal court ruling

The anonymous source of a $1.7 million donation to the Missouri-based PAC that supported Republican Todd Akin’s bid for U.S. Senate in 2012 may be soon be revealed after a court ruling last week.
The anonymous source of a $1.7 million donation to the Missouri-based PAC that supported Republican Todd Akin’s bid for U.S. Senate in 2012 may be soon be revealed after a court ruling last week. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A long-lingering mystery of Missouri campaign finance may soon be cleared up following a ruling last week by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

It involves a $1.7 million contribution to the NOW or Never PAC, a Missouri-based political action committee formed to boost GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

The identity of the donor has remained a secret because the money took a winding path to the Now or Never PAC.

It began on Oct. 31 2012 with a $2.5 million donation to a Delaware-based LLC called Government Integrity. That same day the LLC sent $1.8 million to the American Conservative Union (ACU), a nonprofit best known for organizing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

The ACU immediately sent $1.7 million to Now or Never.

Now or Never ultimately spent nearly $8 million in 2012 to boost Sarah Steelman’s unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri. It later supported the eventual GOP nominee, Todd Akin, who was defeated by former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Federal law prohibits any person from making a contribution in the name of another person, knowingly permitting his or her name to be used to effect such a contribution, or knowingly accepting such a contribution.

In emails acquired by the Federal Elections Commission, the ACU’s then-national finance director admitted that the group was paid $90,000 for serving as a conduit for the donation.

The treasurer of the Now or Never PAC and the attorney for Government Integrity LLC were the same person —James Thomas III, a Kansas City-based lawyer who serves as treasurer for dozens of Missouri-based political action committees

Thomas told the FEC he primarily took his directions from Jeff Roe, a longtime Missouri political strategist who ran U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign

Roe is not accused of any wrongdoing by the FEC. But he was reportedly part of numerous emails discussing the donation with Thomas and Gregg Keller, another Missouri Republican consultant who was executive director of the ACU at the time.

Keller currently serves as chairman of the Missouri Victory Committee, an arm of the state GOP that works to elect Republicans at every level of government in Missouri.

Neither Thomas, Roe nor Keller could be reached Monday by The Star.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog organization, filed a complaint over the donation with the Federal Elections Commission in 2015. Two years later, the FEC fined the American Conservative Union $350,000 for its role in the scheme.

But the original source of the donation remains a mystery.

Two John Does eventually sued, arguing that the FEC should not release documents that would identify the source of the donation because it would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. court of appeals ruled in a 2 to 1 decision last week that the source of the money should be named by the FEC.

The chair of the FEC tweeted on Friday that she plans to release the names of the donors “as soon as we know this decision won’t be reviewed.”

Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the court’s ruling a “victory for transparency.”

“ It’s taken too many years to find out who was behind this contribution,” he said, “but thanks to the courts, we’ll finally know.”

Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A two-time National Headliner Award winner, he’s been repeatedly named one of the “best state political reporters” in America by the Washington Post.