Individuals and companies that were awarded lucrative medical marijuana licenses by the state will gather this week to raise money for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.
An invitation to Tuesday's fundraising reception was sent out to members of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association by its executive director, Andrew Mullins. The event will be held in the home of Hamid Hamrah, who Mullins identifies in the invitation as having a medical marijuana license associated with Green Farms.
Money raised will go to Uniting Missouri, a political action committee formed in 2018 to help Parson win a full term as governor. Unlike candidate committees, Uniting Missouri is not restricted by the state's campaign contribution caps.
Parson, 65, was just elected to a full term last year and is unable to run for governor again because of term limits. He's also dismissed the idea of seeking another office in the future, most recently when he passed on a run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2022 saying "my career will end in this office."
Yet, he's continued raising money through Uniting Missouri.
According to disclosure reports filed this month, Uniting Missouri this year has raised nearly $100,000 and spent $110,000, mostly for fees associated with a trio of political consulting firms.
But next week's fundraiser is raising eyebrows for another reason — the medical marijuana industry is regulated by the Parson administration and has faced scrutiny over allegations of impropriety in how licenses were handed out.
"When someone sees industry leaders are able to, not even have a seat at the table but actually pay for the table, that doesn't speak well for how policy decisions are going to be made," said Beth Rotman, director of money in politics and ethics for Common Cause.
Benjamin Singer, executive director of Show Me Integrity, a nonpartisan coalition focused on ethics in state government, said Parson is "just a participant in the fundamentally corrupt campaign finance system that encourages a nonstop arms race for money in politics."
A spokeswoman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment. The PAC declined comment.
Missourians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2018, and state regulators within the Department of Health and Senior Services quickly got to work trying to build the program from the ground up.
They just as quickly began facing criticism.
The Missouri House launched an inquiry into the medical marijuana program in early 2020.
At the heart of the investigation has been widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored, as well as allegations conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications may have tainted the process.
The industry has also faced FBI scrutiny.
In November 2019, DHSS received a subpoena issued by the United States District Court for the Western District. It demanded the agency turn over all records pertaining to four medical marijuana license applications.
The copy of the subpoena that was made public redacted the identity of the four applicants at the request of the FBI.
The department was given until Jan. 7, 2020, to turn over to a grand jury any records in its possession about the applications. Two days later, the state Legislature convened, and in the weeks that followed, FBI agents began interviewing lawmakers, lobbyists and staff about medical marijuana.
Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation at the Missouri Department of Health and Seniors Services, later testified under oath that the subpoena was connected to an FBI investigation in Independence.
That probe has centered on a pair of utility contracts approved by the city council, but FBI agents questioned at least one Independence marijuana advocate about local regulations on medical marijuana. Last summer, the FBI asked the city to provide coordinate maps of neighborhood boundaries within city council districts.
One person connected to each of the lines of FBI inquiry in Independence is Steve Tilley, a lobbyist who represents the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association. He was previously registered to lobby for Green Farms LLC, and counts numerous other medical marijuana businesses among his clients.
Tilley is also a longtime friend, adviser and fundraiser for the governor. At one point in 2020, a quarter of every dollar raised to elect Parson governor was connected to Tilley and his lobbying clients.
Pointing to next week's fundraiser for Parson, Rotman said things don't have to be illegal or corrupt in order to be problematic.
"In many instances it's clear," she said, "to get the face time, to get the phone call returned, to get the one-on-one conversation, it requires these campaign contributions."
The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.