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Civic leader calls for disavowal of dark money in local elections

In a follow up to an earlier attack on dark money making its way into the Chesterfield local election scene, a woman with a lengthy record of civic involvement has called on all candidates for office to disavow that kind of financial support in the future.

Wendy Geckeler made that plea during the public comment period at the June 18 Chesterfield City Council meeting. Active in local government, Geckeler recently completed 12 years of service on the city’s planning commission. Another Chesterfield civic leader, Mary Brown, seconded Geckeler’s comments, saying she firmly believes transparency in political fundraising is important. Brown said she never has had any reason to hide the names of those she has supported or those who have supported her.

Geckeler noted she has been accused of being against free speech. Not so, she asserted. “We … have a right to free speech, but we do not have a right to anonymous speech.”

Holding up a full-color campaign promotion piece, Geckeler said, “The Missouri Century Foundation sent out mailers on behalf of a council candidate” during the run-up to the April municipal election. “They paid for two robocalls as well,” she added.

Due to the organization’s federal tax status, the names of actual donors and the amount they contributed are anonymous as long as the candidate being supported doesn’t coordinate with them.

The term “dark money” comes from the fact that the process lacks transparency, Geckeler observed.

Although Geckeler didn’t name the candidate, her earlier comments on the same subject and subsequent discussions at both meetings made it clear she was referring to Councilmember Tom DeCampi [Ward 4], who defeated William [Bill] Lawson 710-631, a 79-vote margin, in his April re-election bid.

DeCampi again observed the financial support was “constitutional” and that he had never heard of the organization or knew anything about its plans. Once he learned of the support and what the organization stood for, DeCampi said he was “proud” to have received its backing.

Geckeler said, “What may be legal in the strictest sense is unethical” and “unfair.”

A bullet point in one Foundation brochure declares DeCampi “expanded transparency and accountability,” a statement Geckeler termed a “tragic irony” in that the campaign support he received was “neither transparent nor accountable.”

“This travesty must end,” Geckeler declared. “Only by insisting on free, transparent speech and full disclosure of campaign donations can we avoid the corruption of our election process in Chesterfield.”

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