Rick Brattin official postcards targeted Missouri voters likely to cast primary ballots

Records request shows editing, audience selection for mail promoting work of state senator seeking GOP nomination in 4th Congressional District

By: - July 26, 2022 7:30 am

State Sen. Rick Brattin, directly behind podium, is joined in by family and supporters in November as he announced his bid for the 4th Congressional District seat. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

When state Sen. Rick Brattin sent three large postcards to his constituents, his taxpayer-funded staff made sure they went to people most likely to vote in the Aug. 2 primary.

Missouri Senate records obtained through a Sunshine Law request by Vernon County Republican Party Chairwoman Cyndia Haggard and provided to The Independent detail the development of the mailers which have become a point of criticism for Brattin by his rivals in the seven-way 4th Congressional District GOP primary. The mailers are being painted by his opponents as Brattin using his official office to bolster his campaign for Congress.

The 74,000 postcards cost $20,150 to mail, invoices from the U.S. Post Office included in the records show. 

Haggard, who supports former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks in the GOP primary, says she filed Sunshine Law requests with the state Senate and Brattin’s office after receiving the mailers.

“I essentially thought I was getting campaign material from Rick,” Haggard said. “I am getting campaign material that looks just like that from everybody else.”

Other candidates in the race are Mark Alford, a retired Kansas City television newscaster; Kalena Bruce, a farmer and accountant from Stockton; Bill Irwin, a retired Lee’s Summit police officer; Kyle Stonner LaBrue of Osage Beach; and Jim (Soupy) Campbell of Climax Springs.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the incumbent, is vacating the seat to run for U.S. Senate.

The details in the records that make it seem like the cards were aimed more at promoting Brattin than conveying information, Haggard said, involve formatting, the amount of work on small details like photos and the intended audience.

Missouri has two partisan elections – a primary and general – every two years. The Senate maintains mailing lists of registered voters and how frequently they vote in the partisan elections that select the chamber.

Two of the cards – one highlighting Brattin’s support for a bill requiring a photo ID to vote and another focused on education bills he sponsored – went to people in the 31st Senate District who had voted in three of the most recent elections, meaning they had voted in at least one primary. A third, which features a photo of Brattin superimposed over an image of the border wall championed by former President Donald Trump, was sent to voters who had taken part in all four elections.

In the 2020 primary, when Brattin was nominated for his Senate seat, 78% of voters were Republicans

Brattin’s state Senate district in 2020 covered the five counties targeted by the mailers. But it was redrawn down to just three – Cass, Bates and Johnson counties. It is entirely within the 24-county 4th Congressional District, and his home county, Cass, has the largest share of Republican primary voters.

In a statement to The Independent, Brattin said he was forced to be selective about where to send the postcards in order to stay within his office mailing budget of $20,000.

“As a result, I routinely direct official mail toward frequent voters – both Republicans and Democrats – because I want to reach constituents who are actively involved in government and aware of political issues,” Brattin said. “Vote frequency is a good way to gauge whether or not an individual is civically active. It’s just not possible to reach everyone, and that’s why this is a standard metric used by state elected offices.”

The records show that during development of the immigration mailer, Brattin’s legislative chief of staff made several changes to the design initially provided by the nonpartisan Senate communications office. Instead of a standard Senate portrait of Brattin on the side where the address is printed, a photo of Brattin in his Marine Corps dress uniform is used.

And instead of a quote that states, “As state Sen. I have fought to protect all Missourians from lax federal enforcement of our southern border,” the mailer instead reads: “This may be the worst condition the southern border has ever been in. We need to build the border wall and enforce tough immigration laws. That’s what Missourians want us to do.”

In designing cards, Brattin’s office insisted that they have a red, white and blue color scheme.

“Let me know what you think of this…it looks a little…campaign-y with all the (red, white and blue) colors, but, hey…,” the nonpartisan Senate staffer who designed the mailers wrote in an email to his supervisor.

Before the cards were mailed, they were all approved by Senate Administrator Patrick Baker. The Senate requires that any mass mailing on behalf of a member accurately depict their actions as a legislator, Baker said earlier this month. They may not be overtly partisan or inflammatory, Baker said, and mailings must be delivered to the post office for distribution no later than 20 days before an election in which the member is a candidate.

Burks, who criticized the mailers when they first appeared in mailboxes, said the records Haggard received lead him to believe the postcards were made for Brattin’s campaign, not to inform voters.

“The bulk of it looks like a campaign piece developed and published by official staff for campaign purposes,” Burks said.

The records request also found several emails from constituents objecting to the mailers.

Cass County Commissioner Ryan Johnson, who briefly entered the 4th District race last year, wrote to Brattin’s office that “correspondence from the Senate office is welcome but campaign pieces paid for by taxpayers is not.”

Johnson, a lobbyist who said he contacted Brattin’s office as a constituent, not in his official elected capacity, also submitted a records request.

Johnson is neutral in the race. His wife is a paid scheduler for Alford’s campaign

“It might be perfectly legal, but it is not ethical,” Johnson said of the mailers. “He raided the people’s treasury to get himself elected to federal office.”

This story has been updated since it was initially published.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.