Gubernatorial banner causes flap at Mo. fraternity

A large campaign banner for a Republican gubernatorial candidate came down Wednesday at a fraternity at the University of Missouri in Columbia after a high-ranking staff member for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon apparently raised concerns about whether the political sign was appropriate.

Republican challenger Dave Spence hung a campaign banner last week on a new house being built for Beta Theta Pi, where Spence is an alumnus.

A day later, fraternity chapter counselor Jason Swindle said he got a phone call from the fraternity’s national office in Ohio saying that Nixon communications director Sam Murphey had contacted the office to suggest the political banner could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of a fraternity foundation and should come down.

Murphey, a Beta Theta Pi alumnus from Truman State University in Kirksville, declined to discuss the issue in a phone interview with the Associated Press. He instead sent an email stating: “I was a member of Beta Theta Pi, and I firmly believe in the organization’s educational mission. I am not going to comment on actions I took, if any, in my personal capacity.”

Bill Toalson, a Beta representative on the construction site, confirmed that after the banner was raised, “comments came back through the governor’s office that it shouldn’t be there.” He said some alumni of the Columbia chapter also had reservations about favoring one candidate over another.

“The reason we took it down is we had some of our older members of the fraternity question whether or not we should be making a political statement as a fraternity,” said Toalson, a 1970 graduate of the university.

Spence graduated in 1980 and later amassed a fortune by owning and selling a St. Louis business that produced plastic products, such as bottles. He donated $1 million toward the construction of a new house for the Columbia fraternity chapter and also served as chairman for a capital campaign that sought to raise $10 million for the project.

Spence campaign manager Jared Craighead said Wednesday that although the campaign asked if it could hang a banner on the house, it had no expectation Spence was due the free political advertising because of his contribution. Craighead, who is an attorney, said he didn’t believe the banner violated any Internal Revenue Service guidelines for nonprofits, such as a fraternity foundation that provides scholarships to students.

“What’s inappropriate is the governor’s official staff engaging in political activity” by calling the national fraternity to suggest the banner was inappropriate, Craighead said.

Earlier version:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A fraternity at the University of Missouri-Columbia is removing a Republican campaign banner after concerns were raised by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s communications director.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence hung a banner last week on a house being built for Beta Theta Pi, where Spence is an alumnus.

Fraternity chapter counselor Jason Swindle said he got a phone call the next day from the fraternity’s national office saying Nixon aide Sam Murphey had expressed concern the banner might jeopardize the nonprofit status of a fraternity foundation.

Murphey declined Wednesday to comment to The Associated Press about any actions he took.

Bill Toalson, a Beta representative on the construction site, said the banner was taken down because some alumni had reservations about favoring one candidate over another.

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