JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
The state's ethics enforcer ordered Columbia's mayor end his campaign committee to put an end to complaints over a possible conflict.
The Missouri Ethics Commission told Mayor Brian Treece to dissolve his campaign committee in a Friday order. Once dissolved, the commission promised to take no further action against him.
The commission began investigating the campaign for possible conflicts with a law related to lobbyists campaigning for office. Columbia attorney Dan Viets filed the complaint in late 2019. A state law forbids registered lobbyists from having a committee that receives and spends money for political office. Treece works as a lobbyist while also maintaining a campaign committee for mayor since 2016.
The commission wrote that, following a hearing, it found "probable cause" to believe Treece violated the state law. The three-page order notes that it considered the law, a conversation Treece had with the director of the MEC in 2016 about the law and the fact that Treece will not run for mayor in 2022 in making its decision.
Treece's campaign committee currently has $15,668.62 on hand. Treece may give the campaign funds to another campaign committee, return the donations to donors or donate to charity.
Treece told ABC 17 News on Friday that he felt he always followed the state's ethics laws. Treece shared a deposition of former MEC director James Klahr taken in his case. Klahr said in the deposition that he remembered telling Treece in 2016 that he "was not in any particular jeopardy of having to dissolve his committee at that time" because Treece registered as a lobbyist before he became put together a candidate committee.
Treece's attorney, Jeremy Root, told ABC 17 News that the MEC dismissed a second complaint made about Treece taking donations despite not declaring himself a candidate for office. Root previously said the conflicts between the 2016 state law and other provisions of the state constitution needed further clarity. Root said again on Friday that he disagreed with the MEC's interpretation of the state law.
“This is like switching out the referee in the middle of the game and having the new ref overturn the ruling on the field,” Treece said. “If the Commission is not going to honor the advice of its top and trusted staff, it will discourage elected officials and lobbyists from seeking the advice and guidance of the Missouri Ethics Commission. That ultimately undermines public confidence and voluntary compliance of Missouri’s ethics laws.”
"The Missouri Ethics Commission cannot vary the commands of the Constitution, which gives elected candidates like Mayor Treece a right to have and use a candidate committee post-election," Root said.
Gov. Mike Parson vetoed part of a bill in 2021 that would have eliminated the ban on registered lobbyists maintaining campaign committees.