Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Montee Audit Questions Campaign Contributions to MHDC

"An Attitude Needs to be Adjusted"
A new state audit of Missouri's housing commission (MHDC) suggests that campaign contributions may be influencing where the state's development dollars go.
State Auditor Susan Montee is recommending that elected officials should not make decisions about housing projects submitted by individuals that they've received campaign contributions from.
"The perception is clearly out there that there is a system in place that encourages campaign contributions in return for projects. Whether that's the case or not, it certainly is a perception," said Montee at a press conference in Jefferson City Wednesday.
Montee notes "questionable uses of public funds"
The audit covers between 2006 and 2008, when Governor Matt Blunt, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, Attorney General Jay Nixon and Treasurer Sarah Steelman were the four elected officials on the commission. The MHDC has four statewide officials and six other commissioners.
While Montee's audit noted that it was difficult to match "specific donations to developers," it concluded that the perception is that money influences how the projects are selected.
"Something we don't talk about here implicitly in the conflict of interest is whether or not there needs to be a total different way of dealing with the fact that developers are giving campaign contributions to commissioners," Montee said.
A major benefactor of tax credits from the Housing Commission has been former Springfield Mayor Tom Carlson and his former development partner Mark Gardner. The two have tapped into tens of thousands of dollars to revamp old buildings into apartment complexes around the city for low and moderate income people.

A review of campaign finance reports over the past four years shows that Carlson-Gardner entities have donated close to $15,000 to candidates who sit on the board. Other Springfield developers and citizens have privately expressed concern about a system that seems to favor the well-connected, but neither Carlson or Gardner responded to several requests for comment.
The MHDC said it was reviewing its standards of conduct related to that issue.
***ALSO: Other audit findings questioned housing commission expenditures, like $15,000 spent on alcohol for receptions and $18,000 to reimburse the executive director's legal fees. That's due to an ongoing FBI investigation.

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