Monday, January 24, 2011

Are Prominent City Democrats Working for Millionaire Right-Wing Ideologue Rex Sinquefield? - Updated

Unfortunately, it sure looks that way. We all knew that quite a few St. Louis City Democrats were supportive of millionaire right-wing ideologue Rex Sinquefield's plans to move money from public schools to charter schools. The folks who run the City Democrats Many prominent Democratic politicians also recently decided (or were persuaded) not to resist Sinquefield's state-wide proposition to eliminate the earnings tax in Missouri, leaving it to grass roots groups to organize on minimal money to educate voters and solidly beat Rex in St. Louis City (which is important because, despite what some local Democrats are saying, voters are not so stupid as to magically forget what the earnings tax is before the April elections). But now it appears that local Democrats' collaboration with Sinquefield is taking a new, potentially devastating turn.

Activists in the City of St. Louis have been organizing for local control of their police force for a long time. And for a long time, they've been ignored by politicians in Jefferson City, who see no reason to concede power to the City of St. Louis for mere ethical reasons. However, in recent months, there's been a huge amount of momentum for local control. As I wrote earlier, I'm in favor of local control. However, alarm bells went off for me when I saw that Sinquefield and his employee, former Americans for Prosperity director of Missouri Carl Bearden, were getting involved. As reported today by FiredUp and Show Me Progress, Sinquefield created a new PAC, A Safer Missouri, and promptly donated $300,000 to the PAC.

Now, the fact that Sinquefield is getting involved by itself is not necessarily a big deal. As Alderman Antonio French (whom, I should be clear, is not one of the Democrats I'm referring to in the title) pointed out on Twitter, if there are a lot of groups working on the issue, then Democrats and liberals who are opposed to Sinquefield's extreme anti-government agenda can simply join a group fighting for the same issue that's not affiliated with Rex:

That's all well and good, assuming that everyone is up front about who exactly they're working for and where contact information is going. Unfortunately, however, this appears to be precisely what is not happening.

Mayor Francis Slay, his employee Mary Ellen Ponder, President of the St. Louis Young Dems Martin Casas, President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, and Jamilah Nasheed all tweeted out a link to this google form.

Well, to be specific, Nasheed and Reed tweeted a link to an article on Reed's St. Louis Core website, which included a request for the RSVP that linked to the same document.

And Brian Wahby, Chairman of the City Dems Central Committee, linked to it on his City Dems page;

The actual form they were directing people to looks like this:

As I think is obvious to anyone who knows google forms, what this does is it collects your contact information and puts it into a google spreadsheet. This contact info, of course, is useful for future political campaigns. Groups interested in transparency will generally tell you how your information is going to be used. Unfortunately, this document has no disclosures of that sort.

Via Twitter, I asked most of the group if they could assure me that the information would not be used for any of Rex Sinquefield's campaigns.

None of them replied, except Casas, who said he "had no idea," despite the fact that, as was made clear in the Mayor's tweet, Casas is the point person for the day.

Slay and Reed continued tweeting, and didn't answer my question.

Of course, It would be vaguely interesting if all that happened was that the elected officials and operatives who were promoting this form only ignored my question and refused to simply say, "the information collected via that form will not be used for any future Rex Sinquefield campaigns." But it's actually worse than that. Because it's not just that they did not answer my question. It appears that I found the answer on my own.

The new web site for Rex's group, A Safer Missouri, has a page for "how you can help." This site promotes the same lobby day promoted by the St. Louis City Democrats, and says the following:
On Wednesday, January 26th the Missouri Senate will hold a hearing on Senator Keaveny’s bill that restores control of the St. Louis Police Department to the City of St. Louis. The hearing is scheduled for 2:00pm at the Capitol. Dozens of St. Louis residents will join Mayor Francis Slay and President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed that day in Jefferson City and visit with legislators about Local Control. Can you participate? We will offer transportation to those who need it.
In contrast, Lewis Reed's post about the lobby day refers to "the organizers" as a separate group. Likewise, Wahby's post simply says that buses are going, So Rex's group is providing transportation to the event, and what's more, as can be seen at the bottom of this screen shot from Sinquefield's PAC, Sinquefield's page links to the exact same Google Doc that the City Dems have been promoting:

In other words, Democrats in the city of St. Louis are apparently actively working to build the email lists of Rex Sinquefield, even as Rex is trying to push through a mega sales tax bill that would eliminate income tax in the state and shift the burden entirely to sales tax. This bill would gut our already struggling state government and would shift the tax burden to the poor and working class and away from the wealthy.

Furthermore, one wonders if city officials are also agreeing to keep quiet about the mega sales tax in exchange for Rex's support. Will they sit out a fight on a bill that would damage state government and hurt the people who can least afford it, just like they did with Rex's earnings tax repeal in November?

One other thing I'd like to point out: this is not really about a question of "how liberal are you?" Reasonable people can disagree about issues, if they debate them honestly. This is an issue of transparency. If a deal has been made with Rex, we deserve to know. If email lists and contact information are going to Rex, we deserve to know. That is about nothing more than the City Dems being honest and upfront about their dealings. We deserve that much, as do organizations like the DNC who are trying to decide if St. Louis is the best place for a national convention.

Of course, it's not too late. Any of those officials and operatives can now clear up this situation by declaring (1) that none of the emails collected from the Google Document will be used for a future Sinquefield campaign and (2) that they will vocally stand strong against Sinquefield's disastrous mega sales tax proposal and other attempts to destroy the government. I await their response, and I think it's fairly obvious how to interpret silence.

Update: A friend pointed out that the City Dems, as in the official group known as "The City Dems," did activiely oppose Proposition A in November. Apologies to that group and Brian Wahby for incorrectly characterizing their previous involvement. However, prominent politicians, most notably Slay and his crew, did not. I've changed the title and text to reflect that fact. It also doesn't explain why the City Dems would now be helping to promote Sinquefield's organization and building his email list.


  1. Rex already owns all the email addresses he needs.

    Who is the SLMPD going to be accountable too?

    Will the mayor be personally accountable or a Board.

    If their is a board will their be a public vote?

    Local control doesn't mean the department is accountable to each citizen... How will "local control be any different than a state board?

  2. Good points Adam, but be careful of finding conspiracies in shadows. It is definitely very important to know where information we give these organizations goes.

    However, when it comes to motivations, I'd first look at the money. I don't know enough about the local control deal to say for sure, but where is the funding for the department currently coming from, who will it shift to, and how will that affect Rex and the Jeff City Republicans?

    From what I understand of Rex, $300,000 is chump change and the local Democratic organiztions and politicians may just see it as an ally of convenience to even get things as far as they've come and are willing to ignore things like the email capture as just a small price.

    Keep up the investigation, but be careful about burning bridges before all the facts are in.

  3. Some sound advice John! I've tried to word things carefully and have offered the opportunity for response, so I hope that these bridges won't be burned merely by asking questions, but you never know. If the rationale is that email capture is a small price, then it shouldn't be that hard to be honest about it.

    But I agree with your approach, and will be happy to find out that my concerns are misplaced.

  4. Adam-

    I can see your point, but at the same time, does gathering email addresses of people who support local control really help him for his anti-tax crusades? Probably not.

    On the other hand, probably about 10% of the time, Rex finds himself on the side of an issue where he has more progressive supporters than conservative. Will building his list for that 10% of the time help him with the other 90%, no. Will building his list for the 10% allow him to spend more money on that 10%? Maybe.

    And as progressives, thats something we should want. Just because we disagree with someone 90% of the time doesn't mean we shouldn't work with him the 10% of the time he agrees with us. Rex is a big boy, and he's willing to work with people who kicked him in the gut on another issue, we should be willing to as well.

  5. "Rex is a big boy, and he's willing to work with people who kicked him in the gut on another issue."

    I suppose that's one way of describing the situation, if by "work with" you mean "Sinquefield gave $245,000 to Slay's Mayoral campaigns," and by "kicked him in the gut" you mean "does everything Sinquefield asks them to do."