We can’t shake our heads in dismay at the state of national politics if we’re going to support the same shenanigans at home.
For most of my life, I’ve heard the same tired refrain from friends and neighbors when the topic of national politics comes up. Officeholders have been bought and sold, they have nothing in common with us and want nothing to do with us. And that applies to both sides of the aisle. Sound familiar? Of course it does. That’s our collective opinion of D.C. politicians, and it always has been.
That may have something to do with why a game show host that has presided over more business bankruptcies than most normal people can count became President. At least he was a known quantity. He never pretended to be anything more polished, more sophisticated or more competent than he really is. He is what he is, and even I have to agree that’s rare in national politics. Where I differ from many of my friends is whether or not that’s a good thing, but that’s for another day.
As a matter of practice, as each local election nears, I scan the campaign finance filings for local races. It helps to understand who’s financing the glut of highway signs, yard signs, billboards and social media ads we’re hit with as the big day nears.
And yes, just turn the pages of this publication for both of the past two weeks and you’ll see the same names and faces. It’s part of the process.
In the past, we never got to know who put their dollars behind certain candidates. Whether it matters in the end or not, as voters, we deserve to know so that, in theory, legislative seats aren’t “purchased” by unknown, shadow influencers. If there’s a name behind the dollars, we tend to be more comfortable with the fact that, indeed, seats can sometimes go to the more well-heeled, even in America.
Once we know who is behind the dollars, then it’s up to us to decide a motive for the expenditure. Why do certain people or entities support a certain candidate? Most times, it makes a reasonable amount of sense.
For example, in our local State Senate race, pitting two former local State Reps, Rick Brattin against Jack Bondon, we know both are Republican, and both support so-called “conservative” causes.
Brattin has traditionally been slotted further to the right on many issues, and thus has collected contributions from strongly conservative statewide organizations and political action committees – in addition to a strong local contributor base.
Bondon, on the other hand, also has a fairly wide-ranging contributor list, but the list might lean a shade more “business-friendly.” The two are similarly funded, and their sets of contributors make perfect sense for who they are.
Then we move to the most hotly contested race on the local ballot – the sheriff’s race.
I’m sure there are theories to explain this, but it’s not all that unusual for a sheriff’s race to be aggressive and, shall we say, hard-nosed. One of my best friends from my adolescent years in Western Kansas has been sheriff of Finney County (Garden City) for more than two decades, and, guess what? He’s fighting tooth and nail against wild accusations from an upstart opponent. Now in the end, I’ll be shocked if Kevin doesn’t crush him at the polls, but it goes to show, there is no immunity.
Back here at home, Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber is taking his share of heat from second-time challenger Terry Dotson, and Dotson has the war chest to give him all he wants and more.
According to the Missouri Ethics Commission 8-day before election reports filed this week, Dotson has collected no less than $73,210 for his run to unseat Weber. The incumbent's total was $21,811.
That’s a pretty shocking gulf until you drill down and find out $50,000 of Dotson’s war chest came from one source – his campaign manager Robert Cutler. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it was Cutler’s pickup truck that was accidentally left in gear on a street south of Belton, rolled down a hill and crashed into a tree.
Cutler apparently assumed his truck had been stolen, crashed and abandoned by the thief, and a social media post immediately went up on Dotson’s behalf, bemoaning the crime rate Weber apparently presided over that would allow such a thing to happen.
We know what happened next, an investigation by Weber’s deputies determined the truck had been accidentally left in gear, Dotson admitted the mistake, apologized for his assumption, and the campaign continues.
But it also helps to know that, minus the one $50,000 donation, the two have collected roughly the same level of contributions from basically the same group with different names – local folks kicking in anywhere from $50 to $500. We can live with that.
But then we look at the Cass County North Commissioner’s race – incumbent and former Belton Mayor Jimmy Odom against Raymore resident Ryan Johnson.
Johnson has been a political consultant on the state level for years, despite claiming on a recent mailer to be a “true political outsider.” Now, that’s neither here nor there, kind of typical for a campaign in today’s anti-politician environment. He’s running against Odom, who, despite holding local office for many years, is kind of the antithesis of what many think of when they think “politician.” I mean, everyone knows Jimmy.
Nonetheless, Ryan hasn’t held elective office despite immersing himself in the statewide political snakepit for years, so I guess he can claim that.
But again, there’s that gulf. Odom’s total collected as of Monday? $6,074.03. Johnson? Brace yourself: $48,787.05. Seriously.
Johnson kicked off his campaign by loaning himself $10,000, okay. So we’re really talking about almost $39,000. So who does that come from?
Here are some of the biggest – $2,500 from something called “United for Missouri” of St. Charles, $2,250 from “Life, Liberty and Property PAC” of Jefferson City, $1,000 from the “Conservative Citizens Coalition” of Springfield, $1,000 from “Leadership for America” of Eureka, $2,500 from “Missouri Senate Leadership PAC” of Lake Saint Louis, $2,500 from “Belief in Life and Liberty” of St. Charles, $5,000 from “Gateway PAC” of Jefferson City, $2,500 from the “Missouri Alliance for Freedom Grace River PAC” of Kansas City, $2,500 from the Chouteau PAC of Kansas City, and on and on. You get the idea.
“True political outsider?” Yeah, this is as Washington as it gets.
Now it’s true that a quick scan of Brattin’s and Bondon’s contributor list will yield similar sets of names. They are competing for a seat in the State Senate, however. It makes sense there would be broad interest from varying political operatives from throughout the state.
And to be fair, Odom listed $1,000 from local commercial developer David Christie on his much thinner report, and there are always those that could ask, “might he stand to benefit” from a decision Odom would make on the county commission?
Well, that’s why we get to see donor’s lists. The truth is, Christie has worked with local government for years developing Belton’s commercial front door and it makes perfect sense he would have an interest in keeping familiar faces around.
The bigger question I would have is why the “Missouri Senate Leadership PAC” and others with similar vague names see fit to invest such sums in the Cass County North District Commission office?
That, my friends, is the Washington (or Jefferson City in this case) we hate.
Though the Johnson-Odom campaign has not been quite as “aggressive” as the Weber-Dotson, race, Johnson has gotten in his punches.
Odom, on the other hand, has had little to pull from, due to Johnson’s complete lack of verifiable local community involvement. Except for a brief stint as the Cass County GOP chair a decade or so ago, there’s not a whole lot to go on.
And as of Monday, another interesting point is Johnson still has more than half his war chest left. Ah, the mysteries of political strategy. Give us a break, please.