Ending a dispute that had carried on for years, the Missouri Republican Party and two former GOP candidates—including Eric Zahnd of Platte County—have reached a financial settlement with the Missouri Ethics Commission over campaign contributions made in 1998.
The settlement ended a case that the commission referred to as “non-allowable excess contributions” from the state Republican party.
Under terms of the settlement, Zahnd will pay $5,000 to the state. He was his party’s candidate in a State Senate race vs. Sidney Johnson in 1998 when the state GOP gave a $59,875 donation to his campaign.
As part of the settlement, the state GOP must pay the state $60,000.
Another candidate who received a large contribution from the state Republican party was Chuck Pierce, a former candidate for state auditor. Pierce received a $122,750 donation from the party. Pierce will also pay $5,000 in the settlement.
The settlement ended a legal battle that Zahnd says was getting expensive.
“The Missouri Republican Party had paid over $100,000 in attorneys’ fees,” he said. “The attorneys’ fees had become too burdensome. It was time to move on.”
Zahnd—who last year was elected Platte County Prosecutor in a hotly-contested race against Democrat Tammy Glick—said most of his $5,000 settlement will be paid for using money from his 1998 campaign committee fund.
“I left it (the 1998 fund) open because of this ongoing dispute,” he explained.
“We always said this would be resolved without any fines and it was resolved without any fines. This is not a fine, it’s not an assessment. It’s nothing other than a settlement that the party was willing to enter into,” he said.
Zahnd says his side had won a decision at the circuit court level in Cole County. But the case had been taken to the Western District of Missouri Court of Appeals when it was settled.
“The settlement agreement clearly says neither side admits any wrongdoing. We continue to believe the party was entitled to contribute to its own candidates. At that time there were no individual contribution limits,” he said.
Zahnd said the state GOP was “deeply concerned that the ethics commission had ignored Democrats who were in the exact same position as Republican candidates” as far as alleged violation of contribution laws.
“Both the ethics commission and the Republican party chose to walk away without either side admitting any wrongdoing and without anyone paying any sort of fine,” he said in a phone interview this week.
“It was just time to move forward. This will prevent any candidate in the future from saying Eric Zahnd was fined,” he said.
Bob Connor, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission told the Associated Press the payment is the largest liability assessed for an alleged violation of state ethics laws in the commission’s 10-year history.
Under the settlement, the Republican Party will have to pay an additional $122,675 if it fails to pay the $60,000 or violates state campaign contribution laws.
The Republican Party will be required to make three payments of $20,000, with the first required by Monday, Aug. 11. The second payment will be due by Feb. 2, 2004, and the final payment by Aug. 2, 2004.