May 15, 2013 - A lawsuit alleging "negligent" violations of the state's campaign-finance-disclosure law has been filed by the Mehlville Fire Protection District against a group called "Mehlville Fire Fighters" and two political action committees.
The fire district's Board of Directors voted unanimously during a recent closed session to pursue the lawsuit against Mehlville Fire Fighters, the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County political action committee, or PAC, and the Citizens for Good Government PAC.
The Citizens for Good Government spent more than $60,000 in direct support of Mike Klund's campaign to unseat MFPD Board of Directors Secretary Ed Ryan in the April 2 election.
Ryan, first elected to the MFPD board in 2007, won election to a second term by defeating Klund. Ryan received 8,075 votes, or 63.1 percent, to Klund's 4,690 votes, or 36.65 percent.
In March, MFPD Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer filed a lawsuit against the Citizens for Good Government that alleged violations of the state campaign-finance-disclosure law.
Hilmer's lawsuit sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions against the Citizens for Good Government to prohibit the committee from spending a contribution of $50,500 it received Feb. 25 from the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC.
On Feb. 5, the Professional Fire Fighters of Tri-County PAC reported a $50,000 contribution from Mehlville Fire Fighters. That same day, the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC reported a $500 contribution from the "International Association of Firefighters Local 1889."
At issue is the source of the $50,000 contribution Mehlville Fire Fighters gave to the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC.
A hearing was not conducted on Hilmer's suit before the April 2 election, and Hilmer dismissed the suit April 29. However, the fire district's three-count suit, filed May 6, incorporates some of the same claims as the previous petition.
The lawsuit alleges Mehlville Fire Fighters and the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC engaged in a "civil conspiracy" to illegally conceal the true source of the $50,000, while the Citizens for Good Government "improperly affected the integrity of the election process."
The lawsuit notes the $50,500 contribution to the Citizens for Good Government from the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC "is the exact same amount (from) a group called the Mehlville Fire Fighters and IAFF Local 1889."
The suit states, "The actual source of the funds accounting for the $50,000 donation to the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC is unknown."
MFPD union employees formerly were members of IAFF Local 1889, but joined IAFF Local 2665 in September 2011. Local 1889 previously operated a political action committee, Fire Fighters Action Committee to Elect, Mehlville Fire Fighters L-1889, but terminated that organization Jan. 9.
The committee's termination report listed Douglas Weck, an MFPD lieutenant, as the "person responsible for maintaining records." Weck was unavailable for comment before the Call's press time.
The suit states, "'Mehlville Fire Fighters' lists an Illinois address and is not registered with the secretary of state in Missouri or Illinois ... IAFF Local 1889 lists the same Illinois address. Upon information and belief, 'Mehlville Fire Fighters' is not registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) ..."
Under the Missouri campaign-finance-disclosure law, "No contribution shall be made or accepted and no expenditures shall be made or incurred, directly or indirectly in a fictitious name, in the name of another person or by or through another person in such a manner as to conceal the identity of the actual source of the contribution ...," the lawsuit states.
"Upon information and belief, the name of the group 'Mehlville Fire Fighters' is a fictitious name," according to the suit.
Jennifer Stuhlman, a firefighter/paramedic for University City, serves as treasurer for both the Citizens for Good Government and Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC. She also is a state service representative for the 2nd District of the IAFF and a staff representative for Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665.
She was unavailable for comment before the Call's press time.
When previously asked about Mehlville Fire Fighters, Stuhlman told the Call, "To my knowledge, they're a group of firefighters that work for the Mehlville Fire Protection District."
The lawsuit specifically alleges the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC violated state law "by accepting the funds from an unknown group," while the Citizens for Good Government violated state law "by receiving transferred money from the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC because it came from an unknown source."
Hilmer told the Call the MFPD Board of Directors wants to know the source of the $50,000.
"... By Miss Stuhlman's own admission, it's a group of people who work at Mehlville," he said.
The initial lawsuit he filed against the Citizens for Good Government was not "an election stunt" designed to help Ryan get re-elected to the board, Hilmer said.
"... It had really nothing to do with that because, as the results show, they ran a candidate so inept he could only do 3 percentage points better than a write-in candidate (Dennis Skelton) did against Ed (Ryan) six years ago," he said.
The Citizens for Good Government funded mailers asking voters to support Klund and alleging "wasteful spending" and "mismanagement" by Ryan and the fire district.
"... We are a business. We are the Mehlville Fire Protection District, no different than a private business would be and there is, by their own admission, a group of employees who are clearly busting every tenet of the campaign-finance law to print a bunch of garbage about their employer. So we want to know who are these people and who is funding this. That's really what it comes down to, the source of the $50,000.
"If they would have followed campaign-finance laws, we would all know that. But they've gone to great lengths to conceal their identity."
The suit asks the court to award the Mehlville Fire Protection District "damages in excess of $25,000, but less than $75,000," plus court costs and attorney fees.
The fire district's legal counsel, Mathew Hoffman, told the Call, "... The issue of damages is to be determined. We are trying to uncover the source of the funds and the legitimacy of the groups involved.
"This is not an attempt to raise revenue for the district, but we also need to assess the validity and potential impact of the use of the Mehlville name."