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Roberts Brothers Seem to Like Ald. Williamson, Give $3,250 to Campaign

December 19, 2006 North City, Politics/Policy 5 Comments

In light of H. Lee Willis filing to run against 26th Ward Alderman Frank Williamson again (Willis lost to Williamson in 2003), I decided to take a look at their past campaign reports. I would have preferred to look up the election results from 2003 but it seems the St. Louis Board of Elections has decided to remove pre-2004 election history from their new “improved” website.

In Williamson’s last report from the 3rd quarter of 2006, filed late by the way, he racked up a tidy $3,250 from 10 companies controlled by the Roberts brothers:

  • Talley Properties, L.L.C.
  • Talley Properties II, LLC
  • Talley Properties III, L.L.C.
  • Roberts Brothers Properties IV, LLC
  • Roberts Brothers Properties VI, LLC
  • Roberts Brothers Properties VIII, LLC
  • Roberts Hospitality Services II, LLC
  • Roberts Tower Management LLC
  • Roberts Hotels Mgmt Houston LLC
  • Roberts Hotels Management Tampa LLC

All 10 checks are dated 9/13/2006. This is perfectly legal, questionable, but legal. What was not legal was the amount — each was over by $25 each but Williamson’s report shows they refunded the overage, as required.

Come January 1, 2007 the contribution limits will become a thing of the past. The flood gates will be opened. Will wealthy citizens like the Roberts brothers and others continue writing smaller checks from their many limited liabilty companies or will they simply open their personal and/or main corporate checkbook and write one big fat check?

Dropping the contribution limits is supposed to be a reform measure. The theory is the wealthy have always given more than the limits they just had to break it up into pieces that met the limits. So without limits they are free to give that one big fat contribution without having to break it up. The “reform” being the end result is more accountable because we can clearly see who gave what amounts rather than having to piece through a series of smaller contributions.

Personally I think you have those individuals and their companies that really like a candidate and want to help them succeed, perfectly acceptable. The other 90% of the contributors, I believe, are buying influence and favors. Giving a single aldermanic candidate roughly 10% of their annual salary in the form of a contribution is excessive in my view — regardless if broken up into 10 pieces or one big fat check. The intent is the same.

We need elected officials working for the citizens of St. Louis, not those with big bank accounts that can buy their way into the system.


Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Craig says:

    I think that as long as it’s clear who is donating money to whom, our politcal process is safe. If people think that the Roberts Bros. are having an excessive effect on city governance, then they should make it known to the Roberts Bros. that they do not appreciate the influence. The citizenry can make this known through a number of ways, including blogs, newspapers, and refusing to buy Roberts Bros. houses, rent their apartments, or advertise on their tv station.

    As a way of increasing the transparency, maybe we should require candidates to disclose their biggest donors in their ads, or to list their five biggest donors underneath their name on the ballot.

  2. GMichaud says:

    Since buying votes is legal I was wondering if there is a suggested bribe (sorry a slip of my tongue) I mean a suggested donation schedule that a person would need to follow if a favor was needed from an alderman? Would you need to buy a majority of the alderman to get your bill passed? or is that included in the one time donation? Just wondering, I’m just trying to clarify the ground rules.
    By the way, is it cheaper to just buy the mayor?

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    Contribution limits are meant to help the non-incumbents / challengers. Once you’re in office, raising money to run for reelection is a whole lot easier than trying to raise money to run against the incumbent. Both reality and common wisdom says you’re better off “betting” on the incumbent – between name recognition and the ability to amass (and spend!) a larger war chest, combined with the presumed / assumed support of the ward organization at the local level (and absent a real scandal or conviction), it’s really hard for any “newbie” to win. That said, I still don’t support most campaign finance “reform” laws. They rarely have much impact on the total flow of money, they just change how it’s “packaged” (to comply with the laws). Laws are full of unintended (and intended) consequences, and finding loopholes is a full-time cottage industry. Putting lipstick on the pig won’t change things – it’ll just give a few people some good feelings about at least trying to “change” they system . . .

  4. Lee says:

    We all know the interest that the Roberts have in the 26th Ward. They are currently renovating the Old Enright Middle School into 78 unit condominiums and transforming the track and field into Townhouses. I believe $3,250 is lunch money to the Roberts for all the condiments the Alderman is giving to this project. I’m sure it’s no surprise that the Alderman has his campaign headquarters in Roberts Brothers building which is located outside the 26th Ward. I guess he has to do whatever he is told or maybe is doesn’t know the ward boundaries.

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