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Funding Fights

September 06, 2000
By: Suzanne Bessette
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The defeated candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor has not given up her fight.

Although she lost the primary in early August, Rep. Gracia Backer is continuing her campaign against victorious fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Maxwell. In July, she accused Maxwell of violating campaign finance laws and filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission. She maintains her charges, will not drop the complaint and will not offer unconditional support to Maxwell.

"I am not going to sit idly by and let this go on without action. I'm tired of this type of activity. It needs to be stopped," said Backer, who represents Fulton in the Missouri House.

Her original complaint, filed with the State Ethics Commission at the end of July, accused Maxwell of redirecting campaign contributions above the legal limits through party coffers back to his campaign. The commission has not dismissed the allegation, which means that it is either in some stage of investigation or has been referred for prosecution.

Meanwhile, Maxwell is in the thick of raising funds for the November election. He does not deny that he encouraged donors to give money to party organizations, and that he accepts money from those organizations.

"We have our own legal opinions and our books remain totally open to scrutiny," said Maxwell, whose district includes Mexico. "We continue to fund raise in the same way as the primary."

Backer's attack is no longer limited to Maxwell and his fund raising policies. She now voices frustration at the secrecy and slow pace of the Ethics Commission.

Charles Lamb, director of the commission, has refused to give her information about the status of the case. "I think the law allows me to be informed," Backer said. Lamb could not be reached for comment.

Backer is further annoyed that the commission does not expedite campaign finance investigations during the elections. "I am appalled that the Ethics Commission did not have enough gumption to settle something this serious prior to the election," she said.

Maxwell argues that the Ethics Commission has these policies of secrecy and due process because it is not meant to be used as a political tool by a candidate wishing to damage their opponents' reputation through false allegations.

Maxwell said he is not upset by the prospect of an investigation into his campaign's finances. "We want this pursuit, and we hope it'll just run its course," he said.

Although Maxwell said he is ready for and welcomes an investigation, he voiced disappointment that Backer has not softened her attacks or responded to his efforts to make peace.

"I know she expected to do better in the primary," he said. "After the primary, I called her and left a message, faxed her a note, but she never replied."

Of course, Maxwell is hardly a passive player in this game, having accused Backer of accepting an illegal campaign contribution of $50,000. He is still reviewing the paperwork on that issue, and awaits the final post-primary financial reports from Backer.