JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The barbs have picked up in Missouri's campaign for secretary of state, adding vigor to what had been a relatively sleepy down-ballot race.
Two colleagues from the Missouri House - Democrat Jason Kander and Republican Shane Schoeller - are competing to take over after incumbent Secretary of State Robin Carnahan opted not to seek a third term.
Kander has charged that Schoeller ran afoul of state ethics laws because a family business operated a state driver's license office during part of the Republican's tenure in Jefferson City. Kander contends the dealings pose a conflict.
"Missourians elect us to look out for their interests, so it's unacceptable when someone uses their position to enrich themselves," said Kander, who is an attorney from Kansas City.
For years, Missouri governors awarded contracts to operate offices that process driver's licensing and motor vehicle titling and registration. A fee is charged for each transaction and that can make it lucrative for those who operate offices in suburban and other high-traffic areas.
The license office in Nixa in southwestern Missouri was awarded in 2005 to the Schoeller Group LLC. The company was founded by Schoeller, of Willard, and in 2005 was transferred to his wife, Mendie Schoeller. The state turned over management of the Nixa license office in 2010 to the nonprofit organization Alternative Opportunities Inc.
Schoeller took office in the Missouri House in January 2007. State law restricts businesses owned by lawmakers and statewide elected officials and their spouses from performing services for the state and local governments when the contract is not competitively bid.
Schoeller's campaign maintains there was neither wrongdoing nor a conflict with the license office while calling Kander an "extremely liberal" candidate.
"The fee office run by Mendie Schoeller was run legally, professionally, efficiently," campaign spokesman John Hancock said. "It was overseen by the Department of Revenue and by the state auditor and never had anything other than glowing reports. There is zero conflict here, and there is zero wrong here."
After Kander's criticisms about the license office, Schoeller's campaign questioned a $349.42 state tax lien against Kander that was expunged in September 2011. The Missouri Department of Revenue in a letter to Kander about the tax lien apologized and stated that the agency had erred in estimated billings during the first half of 2010 and had failed to release the lien.
The secretary of state campaigning comes as Missouri's election season grinds into closing weeks and focus continues on a U.S. Senate race that has drawn national attention.
Seeking to grab a slice of the political attention, Kander started his first TV ad during a St. Louis Cardinals playoff game. In the ad, Kander said he was instructed to write his blood type on his boots while in Afghanistan and that making tough decisions is not frightening by comparison. The ad is to begin airing statewide this week.
Schoeller has not run TV ads since winning a three-way Republican primary in August.