Government & Politics

Saga of Missouri Title IX bills shows sway of lobbyists, dark money in state government

It all seemed to be coming together for Richard McIntosh.

“Another tactical nuke into the Death Star,” he wrote in a celebratory mid-March email to several lawmakers after what looked like a big win.

For nearly a year, the veteran statehouse lobbyist had been leading a legislative push to transform the laws governing how Missouri colleges approach cases of sexual assault and harassment.

McIntosh’s goal: to shift the balance of rights and protections away from the accuser and toward the accused in the system called Title IX, which bars discrimination in higher education on the basis of sex.

But this was more than another lobbying job for McIntosh. It was a personal crusade. What few knew at the time was that his son was in the process of being accused and ultimately expelled from Washington University in St. Louis for Title IX violations.

McIntosh and his wife, state administrative hearing commissioner Audrey Hanson McIntosh, worked with legislative staff to write House and Senate versions of the bills. He founded a “dark money” nonprofit to pour money into the mission. He ultimately won over a number of influential Republican lawmakers to his cause.

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Audrey Hanson McIntosh and Richard McIntosh File photo

Then McIntosh scored what looked like a decisive victory. The then-president of the St. Louis NAACP came out in support, arguing that Title IX disproportionately punished African American men.

McIntosh celebrated the news, believing it could weaken vehement opposition from Missouri universities.

In fact, cracks were already forming in the foundation of his campaign. By end of April, the bills were dead, his son’s situation public knowledge.

The rise and fall of McIntosh’s Title IX bill provides a rare look at the unseen forces that often drive the legislative process in Jefferson City.

Unelected lobbyists like McIntosh often serve as a de facto legislative drafting service, writing bills for lawmakers whose institutional knowledge is diminished by term limits. Dark money flows into the Capitol, the public usually unaware of its source as it skews the direction of an issue. While there are hearings and floor debates on bills, the real action is often behind the scenes and out of view.

“It’s really disturbing that someone with access and money and power can drive a bill this far in the process,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City. “I think it can feel pretty frustrating for people back home who have things that they’d like to see get done that would actually benefit their everyday lives. But a lot of those things get pushed to the bottom of the list because it doesn’t have that kind of special interest behind it.”

The story of the attempted changes to Title IX — based on interviews with lawmakers, lobbyists and activists on both sides of the issue, as well as a review of more than 1,000 pages of emails and documents obtained by The Star — provides a rare glimpse into that murky legislative process.

It would not have been possible in years past, and could easily become impossible again.

Many records were only available because of the voter-approved constitutional amendment last year requiring lawmakers to abide by Missouri’s Sunshine Law. A Republican-led effort to remove that mandate passed the House but then fell short in the Senate.

Amendment From Nowhere

It all began last spring, during what would be the last semester at Washington University for the McIntoshes’ son.

Richard McIntosh, a 1987 graduate of Southeast Missouri State, came up through Missouri government in the 1990s, first as a state Senate staffer, then in Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office, and finally as chief of staff for the Democratic leader of the Missouri House.

He left to become a lobbyist in 1996, with a focus on state budgeting and contracting. His firm, Flotron & McIntosh, (a partnership with former Republican state Sen. Franc Flotron) employs eight lobbyists. It represents clients ranging from Corizon Health, which provides health care to Missouri prisoners, to World Wide Technology, which until recently held the lucrative IT procurement contract with the state.

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Washington University Google

McIntosh has one higher education client: Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Like all other college and universities in Missouri, it opposed his Title IX bills.

They first emerged on April 25, 2018 as an amendment, seemingly out of nowhere, dropped into an unrelated piece of legislation by two House Republicans. Shamed Dogan and Peggy McGaugh have said they believe accused students on campus are treated unfairly under current standards. Their amendment would have added requirements for Title IX hearings to function more like criminal trials.

The measure was not as detailed as the fully-formed legislation rolled out earlier this year. But it still called for appeals of Title IX cases to go to the Administrative Hearing Commission, a panel that addresses disputes with state agencies. The presiding and managing commissioner is McIntosh’s wife, Audrey Hanson McIntosh.

The higher education community eventually got the amendment stripped from the bill. But advocates remained puzzled about its origins.

One lobbyist said Dogan and McGaugh appeared to just be floating the amendment to test the waters, backing off after seeing the opposition. The situation became clearer in early June, when the two lawmakers sent college and university higher education lobbyists a letter laying out their argument in favor of changes to Title IX.

McIntosh, who was blind copied on the email, accidentally hit “reply all” when he thanked Dogan and McGaugh for their work, revealing his involvement.

The higher education community knew then the fight over Title IX had just begun.

‘Let’s Go Change History!’

In August 2018, McIntosh started a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Kingdom Principles to raise funds for the fight. Such groups are known as “dark money” operations because they don’t have to disclose the names of donors. Kingdom Principles would eventually hire 29 lobbyists and several spokespersons, as well as pay for advertising — all to make the case for the Title IX bills.

The Star would later confirm that St. Louis billionaire David Steward, a longtime client of Richard McIntosh and a trustee at Washington University, was a source of at least some of the money.

For months, Kingdom Principles made no hires and avoided committing itself to any causes in Jefferson City.

Toward the end of October 2018 , McIntosh met with state Rep. Dean Dohrman, R-La Monte, a friend who would sponsor the House version of the bill. McIntosh followed up with Dohrman and his staff by sending a series of articles decrying what he called a lack of due process for those accused of sexual assault on campus.

One article, titled “5 Signs You’re in the Midst of a Moral Panic,” equated the uprising against sexual harassment and the growth of the #MeToo movement with the Salem Witch Trials and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Part of McIntosh’s lobbying pitch was sending articles describing the threat of sexual harassment or assault as overblown: “The Rape ‘Epidemic’ Doesn’t Actually Exist,” and “The Campus Rape Myth, The Reality: bogus statistics, feminist victimology, and university-approved sex toys.”

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For the next month, the McIntoshes and Dohrman’s legislative staff worked together to write the bill.

They exchanged drafts, with both McIntosh and his wife outlining provisions they wanted included. The bill was crafted such that the expulsion of McIntosh’s son could have been retroactively appealed to the board of commissioners that his mother presided over.

In an email to Dohrman last fall, a nonpartisan legislative analyst assisting with the bill said, “You should be aware that significant legal concerns are likely to be raised regarding this legislation.”

Dohrman said he didn’t involve himself in the details of the bill’s drafting.

“I put in some input here and there, of course, but that’s a complicated matter and I thought it was best for me to hear it out through the whole process before I put in my two cents, if you will,” he said. “It wasn’t a blind acceptance on my part.”

“When I get a bill that’s extremely complicated I kind of let the person work it out,” Dohrman told The Star in recent interview. “You know, and we had (legislative research) involved, and I was there of course. I just kind of let it work out to see where it went.”

Dohrman said that McIntosh’s involvement shouldn’t lead people to believe lobbyists write all laws.

“A lot of people come with a lot of ideas. I talk to constituents, they may mention something to me, I look into it. There’s some reason the law is the way it is. We can or can’t proceed with their suggestion,” Dohrman told The Star. “Lobbyists, of course, that’s their job, and they’re there more often, but it’s an open process, as it should be.”

On Dec. 11, 2018, McIntosh, Dohrman and staff were finished and ready to formally introduce the bill when lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the 2019 session.

“Let’s go change history!” McIntosh wrote.

‘Request from Senator Romine’s office’

McIntosh worked with both the House and Senate to draft the bills, and went on to lead the well-organized, funded and coordinated push for the measures.

“I knew that it was going to be a significant fight when the Senate education chair and the Higher Education chair in the House both filed it as standalone bills,” said Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, who opposed the bills.

Emails show that McIntosh dictated strategy to lawmakers, sometimes even speaking on their behalf.

Before the mid-February hearing in the Senate Education Committee, chaired by state Sen. Gary Romine, the bill’s sponsor, McIntosh told witnesses the order in which he wanted them to testify. He also emailed Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, with a “request from Senator Romine’s office.”

“They asked if you would help address with questions or comments that the 1-in-5 women raped on campus is a false narrative and false statistic,” McIntosh wrote to O’Laughlin. He was referencing a 2007 statistic drawn from federal data that has often been cited by advocates against campus sexual violence.

“Also, a couple of shots at the rape equals regret wouldn’t hurt.”

Email sent to Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin
Page 1 of Romine McIntosh Emails 848

At the hearing, O’Laughlin appeared to follow the script, saying that the accused are “basically discriminated against” in Title IX hearings.

“What’s to stop someone, and I would assume this does happen sometimes, from having a one-night relationship with someone and then the next day you kind of regret it, and so then the next thing you know you say, ‘Well, I didn’t really, it wasn’t consensual’ — I mean, I wonder if that happens,” she said.

The day after the hearing, McIntosh wrote out a lengthy list of questions to be sent to each Missouri Title IX administrator. At the bottom of the list, McIntosh wrote, “Sincerely, Gary Romine.”

The suggested questions were sent from McIntosh to the personal email of a Romine staffer, who then forwarded them to the lawmaker’s government email account.

Romine had told The Star and other media outlets previously that his office drafted the legislation “without outside assistance,” but he confirmed recently that his staff “used (McIntosh) as a resource.”

Emails show that McIntosh pushed Romine — usually using the personal address of a member of his staff — to amend his bill to include retroactivity. McIntosh framed this as the only way students expelled from school for sexual discrimination could get justice without paying to go to federal court.

Romine didn’t include retroactivity in his original version of the bill and never added it.

He also said he never told McIntosh to write letters or contact other senators on his behalf.

His committee approved the bill a week after the hearing.

Slowing Momentum

In the House, things didn’t start out so smoothly.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, decided against sending the bill to the higher education committee, chaired by Dorhman, the legislation’s sponsor, opting instead for the judiciary committee.

The speaker’s public explanation was that the bill dealt with a complicated legal issue that the judiciary committee – made up almost entirely of attorneys – was better equipped to handle. But lobbyists on both sides of the issue believe Haahr was trying to slow down the controversial bill’s momentum by avoiding Dorhman’s committee.

Regardless of his motivations, Haahr’s decision did slow the bill’s momentum, and the bill didn’t end up winning approval until a paired-down version was passed through the Judiciary Committee on March 12.

But even with the delay in the House, many lawmakers were signaling support, including the 40-member House Conservative Caucus. McIntosh’s nonprofit was spending money on ads and messaging, and a massive lobbying team was swarming the building to whip votes.

On March 15, John Gaskin, then-president of the St. Louis County NAACP, issued his statement supporting the Title IX bills and defending Steward’s support of them.

Opponents despaired that they’d be able to stop the bills.

“It was a difficult time period for me. I wasn’t sleeping at night at that time period. I almost became defeatist,” Kendrick said. “There was a time period where I thought for sure it was going to pass just by the sheer amount of money and influence and power that was behind it.”

The Gaskin letter marked the high point of McIntosh’s efforts.

‘Nice sound-bite’

Throughout the 2019 session, rumors about McIntosh having a personal stake in the legislation swirled around the Capitol, although very few knew for sure.

Lobbyists on his team faced questions from lawmakers about whether someone in McIntosh’s family stood to gain from the bill. Some of those lobbyists told The Star they felt unequipped to answer because McIntosh kept them largely in the dark about his son.

Behind the scenes, McIntosh avoided directly addressing his son’s expulsion from Washington University. But emails with Republican lawmakers and staff reveal an obsession and disdain for the St. Louis school.

In one message, he forwarded a letter from a vice chancellor critical of the bills.

“Nice sound-bite,” he wrote, “but what she is really saying is leave us alone to design a system that fits our liberal agenda.”

McIntosh sent lawmakers anonymous accounts, published in the student newspaper, of alleged sexual assaults that decried the school’s Title IX process as too burdensome for victims. He questioned the credibility of those allegations, citing a school survey on sexual violence at sororities. “ONLY 6 percent said they were physically forced; ONLY 2 percent said they were drugged,” he wrote.

McIntosh also tied Washington University to Planned Parenthood and abortion — the organization operates the state’s only abortion clinic, located in St. Louis — in an attempt to appeal to conservative lawmakers.

“Please let the senator know that Planned Parenthood testified against the bill in the House last night. Not sure why but they did. So we must be on the right track,” he said to a member of Romine’s staff.

But when the bill won committee approval in the House in mid-March, Haahr never placed it on the calendar that would have allowed the full chamber to take it up for debate. That halted the House bill’s momentum completely.

Across the Capitol in the Senate, the bill was brought up for debate and greeted with a Democratic filibuster — another steep hurdle proponents of the bill were not convinced they could overcome.

While shaken, supporters were still hopeful they could get some version of it to the governor’s desk. They began looking for other bills still under active consideration where a Title IX amendment might fit.

But the final blow came April 25th, a week after the Senate filibuster, when The Star published a story confirming the expulsion of McIntosh’s son.

Reaction was explosive.

The chances for passage were over. Gaskin, the NAACP official who endorsed the bills, was fired for doing so without permission from the national NAACP. Some lawmakers expressed concern over how close the measures came to becoming law.

“Bills don’t move that fast under normal circumstances. It takes years to do an overhaul like that. And we were going to do it in just one legislative session because we had a motivated lobbyist who seemed to have pretty good access across the board?” said Rep. Mark Ellebrecht, D-Liberty. “That in itself should raise a lot of eyebrows and I’d like to know just exactly how and why that is happening, and how that came to pass.”

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Sen. Lauren Arthur File photo

“I assumed that there was more to the story than the public policy arguments being made, but I did not understand or appreciate the full extent to which this was a bill that was being driven through such self-serving motivations,” said Sen. Arthur. “I was pretty disgusted by it.”

House Speaker Haahr told The Star the bill would not be placed on the calendar, and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, declared the Senate bill as likely dead for the session, too.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s unfortunate that something of this magnitude that maybe should require attention was brought about in this way,” Rowden said at a press conference after The Star’s story.

‘Our Best Ally’

Supporters said McIntosh’s damaging personal ties to the legislation shouldn’t preclude future attempts to rework the Title IX process in Missouri.

“The fundamental question I ask myself is: Do I support due process? Its in our constitution twice. Fifth Amendment and 14th Amendment,” Dohrman said. “If a person is accused of something, they get to tell their side of the story. That’s really all I’m asking for.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in the process of drafting new requirements for campus Title IX processes at the federal level, a lobbyist noted, so “hopefully that alleviates some of the need for legislation in Missouri.”

Many interviewed for this story said the fate of the bills may have been different without McIntosh’s personal drama.

In the end, one opposing lobbyist said: “Richard was our best ally.”