COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
A recent agreement between a St. Louis County mayor and the Missouri Ethics Commission raises questions in a complaint against Columbia's mayor.
An attorney for the Brian Treece for Mayor campaign told ABC 17 News that a consent order between the MEC and Town and Country mayor Jon Dalton shows a conflict between state law and constitutional requirements for political candidates and lobbyists in the state. The conflict involves requirements for candidates to create campaign committees to collect and report money raised and spent on a race and a state law calling for registered lobbyists to dissolve their campaign committees.
The MEC said there was probable cause to believe Dalton violated state law when he failed to dissolve his campaign committee after registering as a lobbyist in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Dalton, who disputed that he violated any law, agreed to dissolve his committee, Town and Country Citizens to Re-elect Mayor Jon Dalton.
Columbia attorney Dan Viets filed an ethics complaint against Treece in November, citing the same conflict. Treece has worked as a lobbyist since 1996. The 2016 state law, known as Section 105.465, requires someone with a campaign committee to dissolve it when they register as a lobbyist. The money in the bank at the time either goes to a nonprofit, can be returned to the person who donated or go to a political party committee.
Treece told ABC 17 News that he met with MEC staff shortly after the passage of the law. Treece said the director told him that the law "did not apply to persons in my situation and advised me to continue my candidate committee in compliance with state law.
"I believe in the transparency that ethics laws provide and will continue to comply," Treece said.
Jeremy Root, attorney for the Treece campaign, said there were factual differences between Treece's and Dalton's campaigns. Dalton had not formally declared for a run in 2021 as mayor with the MEC. This, Root said, makes it unclear if Dalton is even a candidate for office. Treece, on the other hand, has told the MEC that he plans to run for mayor again in 2022.
"The only interpretation that harmonizes these requirements and avoids profound constitutional conflicts is for Section 105.465 to apply only to those persons who register as lobbyists and are no longer candidates themselves," Root said. "Any other interpretation would thwart the campaign finance disclosure laws, unlawfully interfere with a person’s ability to support a chosen candidate for office, and unconstitutionally foreclose registered lobbyists from becoming candidates for elected office."
Dalton first registered as a lobbyist in 1994 and has served as mayor of the 11,000-person St. Louis County town since 2005, winning election four times. Dalton did not respond to a request seeking comment about the MEC decision.
Root pointed out that the MEC order only found probable cause of a violation, and not a violation itself.
"If Mr. Dalton had chosen to contest this proposed resolution, it is unclear how the matter would have resolved," Root said.
Treece has made ethics a hallmark of his tenure as mayor in Columbia. His campaign material in 2019 highlighted his fight for "new ethics rules" for the council. He and several other council members called for Fourth Ward councilman Ian Thomas and Second Ward councilman Michael Trapp to "evaluate" their spots on the council following a criminal charge against Thomas for offering to support a neighborhood development in exchange for a donation to a nonprofit.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty.
Viets told ABC 17 News on Thursday that he would read the MEC order before commenting on it.