“…It is nearly impossible for an individual to fly on a plane without being advised of the flight ahead of time…”
$15,497.55 worth of plane flight(s) for the Super Bowl. And others?
We asked the complainant (and the attorney) for a copy of the document. They sent it to us.
The complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission, filed yesterday:
Governor Mike Parson, Parson for Missouri (the Governor’s official campaign committee), and Uniting Missouri PAC (a political action committee supporting the Governor’s election bid) appear to be engaged in on-going violations of Missouri campaign finance law related to the use of private airplanes. Uniting Missouri is supposed to be a political action committee, independent from the “consent, coordination or control” of its expenditures by Mike Parson. But the public statements of Uniting Missouri PAC’s officers and Parson for Missouri officials show that candidate Parson is in fact consenting to, coordinating, and/or controlling expenditures by the PAC for private plane travel.
Governor Parson flew on planes paid for by, or reported as a contribution by, a third party to a PAC. He could not have done so without some level of “cooperation” or “coordination” with the PAC. As the Commission recently said in MEC v. Greitens, expenditures “done in cooperation with” a candidate are in-kind contributions.2 Just as Greitens for Missouri violated Missouri law by coordinating expenditures with a PAC, Parson for Missouri has violated Missouri law by failing to report coordinated expenditures for flights as in-kind contributions. Along the way, Uniting Missouri PAC violated other requirements that the flights be reported timely. Finally, these flights exceeded the contribution limits for contributions to candidates. Intentionally evading those limits is a misdemeanor.
A. THE WASHINGTON DC FLIGHT
According to these public reports, the December 11, 2019 flight to Washington D.C. was on a plane belonging to Rick DeStefane, a longtime donor to Parson.4 This flight occurred after an appearance by Parson at a fundraiser for Uniting Missouri PAC. “Hancock said Uniting Missouri is covering the cost of the flight because the trip followed its St. Louis fundraiser.” Given that Parson lives in Missouri, not Washington D.C., it is not clear why travel out of state away from a fundraiser would be related to fundraising. Although Hancock claims the trip was related to fundraising, “the governor’s office said…that Parson and Willard were in Washington, D.C., to attend ‘an official event on a public policy matter hosted by the White House’.”5 But, Governor Parson’s trip to Washington, D.C. was not official business, rather it was likely campaign related. Parson even promoted it on his campaign social media account. Exhibit A. Regardless of the true purpose for the trip, there is no doubt that the flight was an expenditure on the part of Uniting Missouri PAC. This flight has never been reported as either an expenditure by Uniting Missouri PAC or an in-kind contribution to the PAC by DeStefane.6 Exhibit B. Nor has Parson for Missouri reported this flight as a contribution to the campaign.
B. THE SUPER BOWL FLIGHT
Parson’s February 2, 2020 trip to the Super Bowl on a plane provided by Uniting Missouri PAC, while also purportedly official business, directly benefitted his campaign. While the Governor’s office put out an official statement that his attendance at the Super Bowl was in his official capacity, Uniting Missouri PAC chairman John Hancock stated otherwise. “John Hancock said the use of the plane is legal because Parson raised money while in Florida for the game.” Press reports do not clarify for whom Governor Parson raised the money. The 2020 Super Bowl in Miami, Florida between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers was played on February 2, 2020. Uniting Missouri PAC reported a $15,497.55 in kind contribution from TM Aviation LLC nine days later, on February 11, 2020. Exhibit C. The report does not make clear that the in-kind contribution was the flight to the Super Bowl.
C. MISCELLANEOUS FLIGHTS
In addition to the 2019 DC and Super Bowl Flights, Uniting Missouri PAC has paid “more than $37,000 to Branson Aircraft LLC for expenses listed as ‘travel for fundraisers’.” 1° Exhibit D. Given Hancock’s statements that Uniting Missouri provides the Governor’s fundraising travel, this likely includes private air travel by Governor Parson. None of these flights are reported as in kind contributions to the Parson candidate committee.
However, in this case, Parson’s use of private aircraft arranged by Uniting Missouri PAC is an in-kind contribution to Parson for Missouri. “If a candidate is advised of the proposed expenditure ahead of time, it might be construed to be an expenditure made either with the cooperation or implied consent of that candidate.” It is nearly impossible for an individual to fly on a plane without being advised of the flight ahead of time.
Parson must have requested Uniting Missouri PAC arrange and pay for the use of the aircraft, and cooperated and consented to getting on the plane. At a minimum, Parson gave “express or implied consent” as contemplated by MEC Opinion 96.06.135. Therefore, Mike Parson, Parson for Missouri, and Uniting Missouri PAC unlawfully coordinated these airplane flights. Unless Parson was in control of or at least consented to expenditures by Uniting Missouri PAC, he would not be able to take these flights because, for example, he would not have known when or where to show up or where the flight was going.
In addition, Uniting Missouri PAC may have acted as a pass-through organization for donations from individuals and LLCs to Parson for Missouri. When a flight is reported as an in kind contribution, it should be an in-kind contribution from the owner of the airplane, not Uniting Missouri PAC. That in-kind contribution counts against Missouri’s campaign contribution limits. In every instance listed above, the cost of the flight either alone or in combination with other donations from those individuals or LLCs far exceeds the $2600 donation limit set for in the Missouri Constitution.
Any contribution above $5000 must be reported within 48 hours of receipt. The 2020 Super Bowl in Miami, Florida between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers was played on February 2, 2020. Uniting Missouri PAC reported a $15,497.55 in-kind contribution from TM Aviation LLC nine days later, on February 11, 2020. This is over 200 hours after the Super Bowl occurred. Either the in-kind is for the Super Bowl flight and should have been reported as made on February 2, 2020 when Governor Parson took a private plane to the Super Bowl (and reported within 48 hours of that flight) or the Super Bowl flight was not reported at all and the February 11, 2020 in-kind is for a different flight. Either scenario is a violation of campaign finance law.
Claire McCaskill (D) must be having a laugh or two right now.
Nice Super Bowl LIV seats you got there (February 3, 2020)
The plane! The plane! (February 12, 2020)
Missouri Ethics Commission – it ain’t chicken feed (February 13, 2020)
Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2020)