By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – An operative for “right-to-work” proponent and Republican mega-donor David Humphreys, has been fined $2,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission for illegally lobbying in the State Capitol.
According to the Kansas City Star, Paul Mouton, who lives in Webb City in southwest Missouri, has long been considered Humphreys’ eyes and ears in the statehouse. A complaint was filed with the ethics commission in June asking for an investigation into whether Mouton was lobbying lawmakers on Humphreys’ behalf without filing the proper paperwork and disclosing the relationship.
The complaint centered around allegations that Senate President Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, sponsored legislation to gut the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and apply new language retroactively to TAMKO v. Hobbs, a class action lawsuit involving allegedly defective shingles that Humphreys’ Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products had manufactured.
Richard received a $100,000 donation from Humphreys after filing the legislation.
CAPITOL VISITS CORRESPONDED WITH ACTION ON LEGISLATION
Although Richard and Humpheys have denied any wrongdoing, the Kansas City Star reported Mouton was routinely seen walking the Capitol corridors during the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions. At the same time, Richard’s office was regularly providing a parking space for Mouton in the Senate’s private garage — 19 times in April and early May last year, a period when the Senate was in session for 20 days; and 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 Richard’s legislation at the heart of the pay-to-play allegations, including the day earlier this year when a Senate committee approved the legislation.
The bill would have limited a person’s ability to sue individually or in class-action lawsuits under the Merchandising Practices Act, which prohibits deceptive and unfair business practices.
The Missouri Ethics Commission determined that Mouton was retained and compensated by Humphreys as a political consultant. Although he was not designated as a lobbyist, he met with lawmakers and their staff to discuss pending legislation that Humphreys was pressing the legislature to pass.
Mouton issued a statement to the St. Joseph News-Press saying that throughout his career, “I have been committed to following the letter and the spirit of the law. I look forward to continuing my work advocating for better policies and better government in the state of Missouri.”
Mounton will have to pay only $200 of his $2,000 fine if he doesn’t violate lobbying laws for the next two years.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat who has been vocal in accusing Richard and Humphreys of pay-to-play politics, told the Kansas City Star he was glad his efforts helped “play a part in shedding light on the unethical and unacceptable behavior of Mr. Mouton and Mr. Humphreys.”
Humphreys and his family spent more than $14 million last year to elect Governor Eric Greitens and various Republican legislators to pass and sign this year’s anti-worker phony “right-to-work” legislation.
During the 2016 election, Humphreys and his sister Sarah Atkins were particularly generous to Greitens, who campaigned on a promise to sign “right-to-work” in to law, and attorney general candidate Josh Hawley, who as attorney general has wide-ranging powers to intervene in class action lawsuits.
In December, after both candidates won their races, the Humphreys family gave each of them another $1 million.
“It’s a shame that the ethics commission doesn’t have prosecutorial powers, because it ought to be criminal for one wealthy individual like Humphreys to wield such immense influence simply because he can afford to purchase it,” Ellebracht said in a statement. “I’m glad we’ve put a stop to his doing it in secret, and we will continue to fight unethical behavior in Jefferson City.”
CALL FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
On Sept. 28, the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a government watchdog group, called on Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson to investigate whether Mouton should be charged with a criminal offense for violating Missouri lobbying laws.
CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “The Missouri Ethics Commission barely slapped Paul Mouton on the wrist for what appears to be a flagrant violation of state law. A mere $200 fine is close to meaningless.”
“Missouri has been roiled by one ethical scandal after another,” Stevens said. “Missourians must have confidence that the rules apply to everyone, including the state’s richest residents. Prosecutors should investigate whether Mouton’s conduct merits criminal prosecution.”