Organizers of Trakas recall effort hit with ethics complaint filed by resident

Organizers+of+Trakas+recall+effort+hit+with+ethics+complaint+filed+by+resident

By Gloria Lloyd
Staff Reporter
news3@callnewspapers.com

Ernie Trakas

A county resident alleges that the recall campaign against 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, has covered up who is funding it and failed to disclose all the money behind it.

But recall effort organizers counter that their reports are in compliance with Missouri Ethics Commission requirements.

In the complaint filed against the “Voices of District 6” political-action committee Feb. 8, Tom Sullivan questioned how the petition drive could have been funded with the donations listed on campaign-finance reports. Most of the $31,000 raised, mostly in in-kind donations, has come from Garrett Webb, a political strategist from south city.

“A lot of questions have been raised about the Trakas recall effort and who has been financing it,” University City resident Sullivan stated in a news release. “The Ethics Commission should be able to provide answers.”

Voices of District 6 uses paid petitioners to gather signatures for the campaign, and is nearing enough signatures to place a measure to recall Trakas on the ballot.

But Sullivan questions whether the money behind the effort is accurately shown on campaign-finance forms. As of the latest quarterly filing Jan. 15, the campaign had taken in $31,555.77, nearly all of it coming from nearly $25,000 in in-kind donations from Webb, who has used paid petitioners on campaigns in the past.

The campaign lists total expenditures on its first quarterly report of $33.45, and it adds $998.11 for signs in the latest filing.

Total expenses the committee has racked up so far are only $1,031.56, according to the report.

Sullivan isn’t buying it. When the totality of the law and the evidence is considered, it raises more questions than answers, he contended.

“Are there contributors whose names are not being disclosed?” Sullivan wrote in the complaint. “Is Garrett Webb only spending his own money? Have petitioners been paid and how much?”

With the latest complaint, Sullivan also asked the ethics panel to review what he views as possible ties between Voices of District 6 and County Executive Steve Stenger, who has been at odds with Trakas for much of the last year.

Stenger previously held the 6th District seat now held by Trakas.

The fact that Webb is friends with a Stenger ally, attorney Jane Dueker, is all Sullivan needed to come to that conclusion.

“Why would it concern her unless she is involved at the behest of County Executive Steve Stenger?” Sullivan asked in the complaint, later adding that Dueker had said she supported the campaign but “does not live in south county or been involved in south county politics.”

Webb said as a campaign consultant, he wants to be involved in what could be the first successful recall in Missouri history.

And that has nothing to do with Stenger, he added.

“This idea floating around out there from Team Ernie that Steve is behind this is just asinine,” Webb said last fall. “I think Steve has bigger fish to fry than worrying about a recall election that’s going very successfully right now. We don’t need Steve to come in. We don’t need somebody else to come in. We have an opportunity in place on our own. And yes, I have given $12,000 and some odd dollars, and it’s because I truly believe in this.”

Stenger agreed that there is no connection between him and the Voices of District 6.

“Before he could credibly make an accusation like that, he would have to have some demonstrable evidence,” Stenger said of Trakas. “And frankly, there is none because I have nothing to do with it.”

Voices of District 6 Treasurer Cameron Hartman, a tax accountant in Lemay, dismissed the articles that Sullivan quotes in his complaint, including what he said is a made-up quote attributed to him that the campaign would cost $250,000. Asked how much signatures cost, he offered a range of numbers, and the editorial writer took the higher range and attributed it to him, Hartman said.

Steve Stenger

“We’re two degrees from Kevin Bacon being involved,” Hartman said, with Trakas and critics believing the campaign is a “nefarious conspiracy to take over the world.”

To Sullivan, that discrepancy between the $250,000 figure and the actual reports is clear evidence that all the money spent on the campaign wasn’t reported.

One of the recall effort’s primary goals is keeping accurate records, Hartman added. To that end, he contacted the Ethics Commission before filing the group’s first quarterly report to see how he should list the in-kind donations from Webb.

“Our No. 1 goal is transparency,” Hartman said. “That’s actually part of why we’re doing this, that Ernie isn’t very transparent and that’s part of what we want for District 6.”

His impression was that commission members appeared to believe the way he was filling out the report, including listing items such as logo design as a $100 in-kind donation, was above and beyond what most committees do.

“They said, ‘Wow, that’s very transparent,’” Hartman said. “We’re pleased with being able to tell people exactly what it is that we’re getting. Obviously, I want to make sure that we’re reporting correctly.

“I’m confident with the discussions that I’ve had with them that we are exceptionally transparent.”

The campaign is mostly run by volunteers, including Carmen Wilkerson, who worked for Trakas as his legislative assistant until he fired her in May. She has contributed more than $3,000 of in-kind notary services, according to the reports.

It’s not the first time that Sullivan has questioned whether campaign committees follow the letter of the law. He previously filed a complaint against the St. Louis County Library Board of Directors for violating campaign law in the runup to the library’s $108 million ballot measure, Proposition L, in fall 2012. The Ethics Commission agreed that the library had violated election law.

In that case, then-Library Director Charles Pace and library attorney Lisa Stump, who now also serves as Crestwood city attorney and an attorney for the Rockwood School District, stipulated to the commission’s findings that the library had improperly published campaign literature in advance of Prop L without identifying the documents as campaign-related.

The library paid a $100 fine.