Mo. ethics panel fines ex-Sen. Wright-Jones $270K
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former state Sen. Robin Wright-Jones has been fined more than $270,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission for violating numerous campaign finance laws, including using campaign money for personal expenses such as food and clothing.
The decision released Wednesday by the Ethics Commission also says Wright-Jones received a double reimbursement for vehicle mileage from both the state and her campaign fund, made more cash expenditures than allowed by law and failed to accurately report a couple hundred thousand dollars of expenditures and contributions by state deadlines.
Wright-Jones, a Democrat, represented a portion of St. Louis in the state Senate until this past January. She was defeated in last year’s Democratic primary by then-Rep. Jamilah Nasheed.
St. Louis attorney Bernard Edwards Jr., who represents Wright-Jones, said he plans to appeal the Ethics Commission decision to the state Administrative Hearing Commission.
Edwards called the fine arbitrary and excessive and said the Ethics Commission was “micromanaging” Wright-Jones’ expenses after failing to provide an adequate definition of what would qualify as “personal use.” He said Wright-Jones’ expenses on clothes, food and vehicle mileage were legitimately related to her political and official duties, and thus appropriate to be paid out of her campaign account.
“There was no evidence that she was personally benefitting,” Edwards said.
Under the Ethics Commission order, Wright-Jones must pay $56,202 but the remaining $215,378 of her fine would be suspended so long as she commits no further campaign finance violations in the next two years. The order was dated Tuesday, though it was not posted online until Wednesday.
The Ethics Commission order says Wright-Jones converted $14,169 of campaign funds for personal expenses at book stores, automobile service shops, clothing and accessories stores and nearly 50 restaurants and grocery stores, among other places. It says she made 36 cash expenditures of more than $50 each —totaling $14,414 — in violation of a state law requiring checks for purchases of that amount. And it says Wright-Jones spent $3,789 of campaign committee funds on vehicle mileage even though she was reimbursed by the Missouri Senate for that same mileage.
The commission’s written order said Wright-Jones cited her constitutional right not to testify against herself when asked under oath about her Senate travel reimbursements and some of the apparently personal expenses. Commissioners said they inferred from her silence that a truthful answer “would have been unfavorable and would have corroborated the evidence” against her.
The written order, signed by commission Chairman Dennis Rose, said Wright-Jones appeared before the Ethics Commission last Friday during a closed-door hearing in Jefferson City.
Edwards said the dual reimbursements for vehicle mileage were justifiable, because the Senate’s reimbursement for official business did not cover the additional miles that Wright-Jones drove for political events. As precedent for spending campaign cash on clothes, Edwards pointed to the former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who received a $150,000 campaign-funded wardrobe while running for vice president in 2008.
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