Former Missouri legislators keep control of leftover campaign funds

Many say they plan to run for local or statewide office. They never do, but they keep spending

By: - June 30, 2023 5:54 am

The Missouri state flag is seen flying outside the Missouri State Capitol Building on Jan. 17, 2021 in Jefferson City (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images).

Despite voters’ attempts to tighten Missouri’s campaign finance laws, many former state legislators keep control of tens of thousands of campaign dollars without running for public office again.

A review of hundreds of former Missouri legislators’ campaign finance reports shows that some of them drew from their candidate committees to spend on campaigns that never happened. They bought computers, reimbursed themselves and their relatives without specifying the expenses, and paid rent for their offices.

One went to a brewery conference. Another paid a personal credit card bill. Others kept buying food and paying their internet bills.

Some were still in office when they began finding creative ways to manage their money. One former state legislator, Republican Ryan Silvey, moved campaign funds around in such a manner that they ended up under the control of his wife in a nonprofit.

Silvey, who left the Missouri Senate to serve on the Public Service Commission in 2018, moved hundreds of thousands of his campaign dollars from his committee to a political action committee just before that was prohibited. More than $300,000 of those funds made it to a nonprofit run by his wife, Angela Silvey, a Jefferson City lawyer who used more than $85,000 to pay her own law firm.

Missouri voters took up the issue of campaign finance in 2016, when they passed an amendment to the state constitution that imposed contribution limits for statewide and legislative offices, banned candidate committees from contributing to each other and prohibited them from donating to PACs. The extra rules added to the campaign finance disclosure laws the legislature has passed over the years.

John Messmer, a political scientist at St. Louis Community College-Meramec and a staunch proponent of campaign finance reform, said the spirit of these laws is to curb profiting from political campaigns.

“You raise money — fine,” Messmer said, “but then that money should be exclusively for future campaigns or for the campaigns of others.”

The do’s and don’ts of candidate committees

Candidates cannot convert the contributions in their candidate committees to personal use, Missouri law mandates. They form these committees, which they usually control directly, to receive contributions and spend for their candidacies.

Committees are overseen by the Missouri Ethics Commission, which enforces campaign finance laws in the state. It is the commission’s practice not to comment on specific situations, and officials declined to comment for this story.

Candidates can keep their candidate committees open when they win an election and can continue to spend on costs associated with the duties of their offices. These costs can include providing entertainment and social courtesies to their constituents, professional contacts and other politicians.

When they close their committees, candidates can refund their contributions to donors. They can also make donations to political parties or as unconditional gifts to “any charitable, fraternal or civic organizations or other associations formed to provide for some good in the order of benevolence.”

Those gifts cannot result in direct financial benefit to the candidates or their immediate family members.

Missouri law states that candidates who lose an election must close their committees the latter of either 30 days after a general election in which they were not elected or when they’ve paid off all of their committee’s debt. Candidates have to get rid of all funds in their committees before terminating them.

However, successful candidates who leave office can keep their committees open and collect and spend on their campaigns.

But are they actually running?

The Missouri House chamber during debate on March 12, 2023 (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

Many politicians who term out of the state legislature keep their candidate committees alive and declare that they’ll run in a future election. They continue spending their contributions, but they never actually run.

Republican Chrissy Sommer left the Missouri House in January 2021. Her candidate committee remains active and, according to an amended committee statement she made last year, Sommer is running for a seat on the St. Charles County Council in 2026.

That’s not what her website said before a reporter contacted her for this story.

“Nope, I am not running for any office, but you never know what the future might hold,” her website stated.

But since May 2021, Sommer’s committee has paid accounting fees each reporting period, for a total of $900. There are no details in her reports about who is doing the accounting work, but she and her husband, Mike Sommer, are both listed as treasurers for the committee. 

There remained $24,369 in Sommer’s committee as of April.

“We do what is allowed by the Ethics Commission,” Sommer told the Missourian.

Chesterfield Republican Don Gosen resigned from the House in February 2016 after admitting to having an extramarital affair. Gosen had $94,603 in his committee before his resignation. He kept his committee open until last year, asserting in campaign documents that he was running for the Missouri Senate’s District 26 seat.

He never ran.

Gosen said candidates sometimes “pick an election they would potentially run for” when they decide to keep their committees open. He added that he decided about a year and a half ago that he was not going to run last year.

But between 2016 and 2022, Gosen continued to pay phone and internet bills, and rent for his campaign office, on his committee’s dime. By the time he terminated his committee last October, Gosen had paid almost $38,000 to Dierbergs Markets in Chesterfield for “campaign office rent.” The campaign also paid a few thousand dollars to AT&T for his phone and internet service.

Gosen said his committee entered into a lease agreement with Dierbergs when he was first elected. He added that his insurance business was also located in the office and paid part of the rent.

“I had an obligation to pay that until the lease terminated this past year,” Gosen said.

As for the phone payments, Gosen said it made sense to keep his campaign line open because part of the office’s full cost included a phone installation system.

“You’ll find when you leave office, people continue to call,” Gosen said. “These campaign numbers are in databases. I still get letters in the mail every week for different political reasons. And so I kept the address up, I kept the phone line up, kept most of that up.”

In March and April 2017, Gosen spent more than $2,000 to attend a Brewers Association National Guild and Government Affairs meeting in Washington D.C. October 2017 and January 2018 campaign expenses show Gosen spent more than $2,000 on attending the 2018 World of Concrete conference in Las Vegas.

Gosen said that while these were not campaign events, they were related to his interest in eventually running for office again. He added that he was involved in 90% of alcohol-related legislation at the Capitol.

“I didn’t want to lose my expertise in those areas,” he said. “They were very beneficial for me, as a brewery owner when I first ran, to have that expertise and have that continued involvement with that industry if and when I work or run again.”

The concrete association meetings were important, Gosen said, because of the infrastructure talks going on in state government at the time.

“Relationships — they’re very important in a campaign,” Gosen said. “I’m not sure why I chose to extend some activities and not the others. Probably because the Washington D.C. hotel costs so dang much.”

Some leave the legislature due to term limits. State senators are limited to two four-year terms and state representatives to four two-year terms.

Democrat Tom McDonald termed out of the House in January 2017 but continues to hold on to his committee. The committee held close to $11,000 when McDonald left office and only had $320 as of his last complete report in January. In that time frame, his campaign continued to pay for meals and office supplies. It also spent $6,362 on “data access.”

McDonald said those expenditures were for internet access, and that they were within the bounds of the law. He kept his campaign machinery in place “with the expectation that I would make the decision to run again.”

“If you’re still thinking about running for office, the rule of thumb is anything you need to get elected is within the lines,” he said. “So, I feel that me spending that money on keeping my computer — which actually belongs to the campaign — active, was a part of that.”

His committee documents indicate McDonald was going to run for a seat on the Independence City Council in 2020, but he never did. McDonald said the pandemic ultimately led him to decide against a run.

He said a future run for a local office is still possible.

“I don’t think I’m any different than just about 99% of the other candidates who still have a committee,” McDonald said.


More than one-third of the 34 legislators who left the state Senate since January 2017 continue to hold on to their candidate committees. Republican Will Kraus resigned that year to serve on the Missouri Tax Commission, but his committee says he plans to run for a statewide office next year.

Democrat Scott Sifton, who termed out of the Senate in 2021, still has an open committee with $272,018 as of April. His documents say he’s running for a statewide office in 2024, too.

“Statewide office” is a box commonly checked in the reports of former legislators who keep their committees open, say they’re running but don’t specify what they’re running for.  In fact, at least 38 current and former state legislators have committees open that list “statewide office” as their goal in next year’s election.

Some former state senators have moved on to the U.S. Congress, but their state committees continue to hold hundreds of thousands of dollars, which cannot be used for their federal campaign expenses.

Republican Eric Schmitt, former state senator and attorney general, won a U.S. Senate seat in November. His state committee still had $128,984 as of April. Eric Burlison, a Republican who served in the Missouri Senate and is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, reported $407,123 on hand.

Burlison gave Missouri Republicans a total of $30,000 prior to the November election, when he was running for a national office.

The law does allow these U.S. congressmen to keep their state committees open because they were successful candidates, meaning they didn’t leave a state office due to losing an election.

Others who sit on large sums include Elijah Haahr and Todd Richardson, both former House speakers. Their April reports state they are candidates for “statewide office.” Neither say when they are running or what office they’re seeking.

Richardson resigned from the House in November 2018. At the time, a report showed he had more than $75,000 in his committee.Since then, Richardson’s committee has paid Grote and Associates, a Columbia-based campaign management firm, $9,500 to ensure his campaign remains in compliance. The former speaker still had $47,079 in campaign funds as of April.

Haahr termed out of the Missouri House in January 2021. He had close to $260,000 in his committee in April of that year and has filed “limited activity” reports since then, meaning he has not received or spent more than $500 during each reporting period.

Former Rep. Caleb Jones, a California Republican whose district included the southern end of Boone County, is another whose campaign documents call him a “statewide office” candidate. He had $120,064 when he resigned from the State House in January 2017 to serve as former Gov. Eric Greitens’ deputy chief of staff. He had $85,335 in his committee as of April of this year. His campaign gave out tens of thousands to a Catholic church and Missouri Republicans, but Jones hasn’t made any charitable contributions in close to four years.

Donating to a good cause?

Ryan Silvey speaks in 2012 his tenure in the Missouri House of Representatives (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

The constitutional amendment on campaign finance that Missouri voters passed in November 2016 took effect Dec. 8 of that year. The amendment provided that “candidate committees cannot make contributions to political action committees/continuing committees.”

Ryan Silvey, then a state senator from Kansas City, beat the clock by three days.

He moved more than $350,000 to the Building Consensus PAC, controlled by his wife, Angela Silvey. She is the owner of Silvey and Associates, a law firm in Jefferson City.

In April 2017, Angela Silvey incorporated a nonprofit, Building Consensus Inc. A 2017 tax filing said the organization intended to help recently released inmates by providing them with care packages.

Angela Silvey, her daughter, Taylor Mansker, and an employee of her law firm, Jennifer Thompson, all served on the board of Building Consensus Inc. In May 2017, the PAC of the same name paid the nonprofit $100,000.

But most of the $100,000 transfer from the PAC to the nonprofit was essentially a payment to Angela Silvey’s law firm. The board of the nonprofit approved a contract under which Building Consensus Inc. would pay Silvey and Associates $87,600 up-front for three years of rent, accounting and legal services.

During the same month, the law firm took out a $94,000 loan to purchase property at 425 E. High Street in Jefferson City, according to records in the Cole County Recorder of Deeds office. The address houses both the law firm and Building Consensus Inc.

When the Building Consensus PAC was terminated in early 2018, it passed on another $215,524 and an “in-kind contribution of physical property” to Building Consensus Inc. Ryan Silvey also gave the nonprofit another $28,820 before he closed his last candidate committee in April 2019.

The Silveys did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Silveys spent $4,000 of the nonprofit’s money on a trip to Europe in July 2017, according to Ryan Silvey’s personal financial disclosure filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Documents indicate he and Democrat Jason Holsman, a former state senator who serves on the Public Service Commission, spoke together at a conference in Crete called Building Bridges in a Complex World.

The Public Service Commission regulates investor-owned utilities.

Holsman paid for his trip to Crete with funds from his candidate committee, but his personal financial disclosure for 2017 shows the Silveys’ nonprofit paid for Holsman’s wife’s travel to the conference.

Over the years, Building Consensus Inc. has made donations of several thousand dollars to organizations such as Hope House, the American Heart Association and the Mid Mo Samaritan Center.

Democrat Jason Kander, a former secretary of state, donated to an organization he is connected to. In 2017 and 2018, Kander donated close to $700,000 of his campaign funds to Let America Vote, which he founded.

Kander wrote in an email that he received no compensation for his role as president of Let America Vote and that he gave the option for refunds to his contributors. He added that his campaign told contributors their donations would go to Let America Vote if they declined a refund.

Others were more selective in offering refunds. 

Former Rep. Rocky Miller’s November 2021 termination report shows he and his mother, Janice Miller, received unspecified “reimburse” payments totaling $10,280 that month. Even though the law requires reimbursements to be explained in reports, they were not. Miller, a Republican from Osage Beach, said those “reimburse” payments were refunds for past contributions he and his mother made to his campaign.

Ethics Commission enforcement limited

John Diehl during his time in the Missouri House of Representatives (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

Anyone who “purposely” violates the ethics law can be charged with a misdemeanor. But that is rare.

The Missouri Ethics Commission can audit candidates’ reports, but it has to have a reason to. Sometimes staffers notice issues during reviews of committees. Sometimes people file complaints about candidates’ spending, and that leads to an audit. 

Audits have found incidents of inaccurate reporting and improper spending.

That happened to the committee of former House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican who resigned in 2015 after admitting to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with an intern. Diehl hasn’t run for anything since 2014, but his candidate committee remains open.

His committee didn’t report a new bank account number in a timely manner, and the MEC audited his campaign. The audit found that Diehl used $6,762 of his campaign funds in January 2020 to pay a credit card bill for expenses not related to his campaign, among other things.

In the updated report for that period, Diehl’s campaign wrote that the payment was made “mistakenly.”

Diehl had to return to his committee what he spent on expenses not related to his campaign, and the MEC fined his committee more than $47,000. However, like most campaigns that come before the MEC, his committee can pay a fraction of the fine and the rest of the fine will be voided.

Diehl’s campaign has to pay $9,762 to avoid paying the rest. His campaign is allowed to pay the fine using its committee funds.

Is the law enough?

Peverill Squire, a political scientist at MU, said campaign finance reform is an issue that many legislators would prefer to avoid.

Bills focusing on ethics, such as one that would require candidates to include bank statements in their campaign finance reports, have been filed in the legislature in recent years. They end up getting stuck, though.

When legislators leave office, some genuinely think they’ll run again and it just doesn’t work out, Squire said. Others, he said, see their campaign finance resources as a way to stay involved in the political system, potentially to begin careers as lobbyists or consultants.

Under the law, “it’s hard for them to simply put it in their pocket,” Squire said. But the law “does leave the door open for potential abuse.

“Some of these politicians can be remarkably creative in how money gets shuffled around.”

Recovery, swinging bridges, churches and bald eagles

Sometimes legislators donate to causes they say they’re passionate about.

Former Sen. David Sater, a Republican from Cassville who left the Missouri Senate in January 2021, gave a large amount of his campaign funds to a charity that helps people struggling with addiction.

Between August 2018 and his committee’s termination in January 2022, David Sater’s campaign donated a total of $99,442 to a Cassville-based organization called Recovery Resources Inc.

David Sater said Recovery Resources Inc. is a nonprofit that provides safe housing options for people who are going through drug court or have been paroled. He added that the nonprofit has three residences for people struggling with addiction.

The organization had its tax-exempt status revoked in May 2020 for failing to submit federal tax filings for three consecutive years, according to its IRS profile. It’s also not on the federal government’s current list of tax-exempt organizations in Missouri.

But a 2020 report to the IRS by Recovery Resources Inc. is available. It states “the organization’s books are in the care of Sharon Sater,” the wife of David Sater and the nonprofit’s secretary at the time. IRS reports and David Sater’s campaign documents both indicate Recovery Resources Inc. was located at the Saters’ home in Cassville.

“My wife is the treasurer of the nonprofit, so she has bills and everything sent here,” David Sater said. “We don’t want those, and she doesn’t want those, bills to be sent to one of the residences. That would be confusing.”

Sater said his wife does not decide how the nonprofit spends its money. Although she is on the nonprofit’s board of directors, Sater said she casts just one vote of seven.


Others give their leftover cash to unique causes. 

Miller helped a community fight to save a bridge. Save the Historical Brumley Swinging Bridge, a grassroots organization that formed to restore the Grand Auglaize Bridge in Brumley, Missouri,  received $3,685 from the Miller campaign in 2021.

“It’s just a beautiful swinging bridge that needs to be rebuilt,” Miller said. “I was working with those folks when I was in office to get it back. It’s still taking donations.”

Republican Kirk Mathews used his leftover money to help his church. His campaign donated its last $20,869 to Genesis Church in Eureka, where he serves as the pastor of evangelism and community connections.

“It is 100% volunteer work,” he said of his position as an elder with the church.

Mathews said he considered that friends and church members had donated to his campaign. He added that Genesis Church is involved in a lot of charity work in Eureka, such as helping people buy gasoline at cheaper prices and running food pantries.

Republican Don Rone, who left the Missouri House this year, paid a taxidermist last year to stuff a bald eagle.

Rone said he and his wife had been watching an eagle family have eaglets on their farm for a few years. When the mother eagle died, he asked the game warden if he could pay to mount the bird.

“It took him a year to get permission,” Rone said.

The mounted eagle is now on display at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southeast Regional Office in Cape Girardeau.

“Everyone now has the opportunity to look at a real eagle that was found dead in Pemiscot County,” Rone said. “It’s a great asset to the people of southeast Missouri.”

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online.

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Erik Galicia
Erik Galicia

Erik Galicia is a reporter who has covered local government in Columbia and Boone County for the Columbia Missourian. A Southern California native, he transferred to the University of Missouri School of Journalism from Riverside City College, where he reported on the pandemic, protests and police violence for Viewpoints, the student newspaper. He will be returning to California to report in the Central Valley after he receives his degree.