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Monday, June 13, 2011

Robin Wright-Jones: State Senator Decries Post-Dispatch "Hit Piece"

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Wright-Jones blames reporter for stirring things up on "sleepy summer afternoon."
  • Wright-Jones blames reporter for stirring things up on "sleepy summer afternoon."
Updated 9:35 a.m. with reaction from Jake Wagman.

In a page-one story Sunday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, political reporter Jake Wagman exposes several accounting irregularities in the campaign filings of state senator Robin Wright-Jones (D - St. Louis).

The piece alleges that tens of thousands of dollars from Wright-Jones' campaign funds are unaccounted for and that the state senator seems to have used at least some of the money for personal expenses, including a pair of $111 shoes from the Galleria.

But is the the article much ado about nothing? That's what Wright-Jones contends in a press release (viewable below) that her staff fired off to St. Louis media over the weekend.

"By casting aspersions and doubting my leadership abilities, Jake's story is nothing more than hit piece to try to stir things up on a sleepy summer afternoon," says Wright-Jones, who goes on to explain in the release how the Post-Dispatch reporter allegedly misquoted her and confused the facts.

Contrary to Wagman's story, Wright-Jones says she did not "blame" her treasurer for her accounting irregularities. Instead, the state senator says that she and the treasurer both are "victims of circumstance." The treasurer became ill and could not keep up with the paperwork, argues Wright-Jones, and the politician could not find another accountant to handle the duties.

What's unexplained, though, is why Wright-Jones didn't just file the campaign reports on her own -- or notice the mistakes. By her own admission in the press release, Wright-Jones says that "for seven years I prepared my own ethics reports when I was in the House and they were always accurate to the penny." 

Moreover, Wright-Jones doesn't address one of the most egregious charges in Wagman's article: that she spent $111 from her campaign coffers on shoes.

Responding this morning to Daily RFT, Wagman says: "I think the story speaks for itself. We stand by the accuracy of the piece, including the quotes."

We'll side with the reporter on this one, as we suspect that part of the senator's anger with Wagman stems from an earlier article. In March, Wagman exposed how the Four Seasons Hotel was suing Wright-Jones for an unpaid tab stemming from her 60th birthday party in January 2010. Lobbyists picked up $2,000 of the $6,000 bill, but much of the remainder went unpaid, prompting the lawsuit.

As an elected official, Wright-Jones is expected to play by the rules, and reporters like Wagman are there to ensure that. If Wright-Jones is too thin-skinned for the job, perhaps she needs to find a new career in something other than politics. (We'd also suggest that she steer clear of applying for work as an accountant or billing clerk.)

Oh, and here's her official release. We like how Wright-Jones calls herself the "lone voice for the poor, disadvantaged, women, people of color and the gay, lesbian and transgender community in St. Louis."
Sen. Wright-Jones Clarifies Post-Dispatch Article
Wagman story a Political Hit Piece

JEFFERSON CITY - Senator Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, today accused the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of printing a highly misleading story relating to her campaign finance accounts. The article, authored by reporter Jake Wagman and posted on the newspaper's website this afternoon, makes a number of inflammatory assertions regarding Senator Wright-Jones' campaign expenditures.

"As I explained to Mr. Wagman during our interview, I do not "blame" my campaign treasurer - we are both victims of circumstances in this matter. I have had some issues because my treasurer fell critically ill for several months," Sen. Wright-Jones said. "Despite her illness, she attempted to complete the required campaign reports on time but was unable to complete the work. I then searched for a new treasurer who was familiar with filing ethics reports and found one in late August or early September. We then proceeded to retrieve and transfer all of the relevant paperwork to the new accountant, and for the past six months we have worked diligently to restore and re-establish pertinent records so that accurate reports could be produced and incomplete filings could be amended."

Sen. Wright-Jones contends the article glosses over the problems she experienced with late or incomplete filings due to her treasurer's illness and attempts to infer some type of misappropriation of her campaign funds. She says Wagman even asked her if she used campaign funds for personal or home expenses.

"Absolutely not," Sen. Wright-Jones said of the allegations in Wagman's article. "These dollars are accounted for in the bank statements and will be reflected in the amended filings. The point is we have worked to correct this problem and I have taken my time to ensure accuracy. If I am subject to fines and penalties as a result - so be it. I will pay them and move on."

Sen. Wright-Jones says Wagman misquoted her at various points in the article, despite her efforts to correct the record.

"Jake sent me an email earlier this week and asked me to review the quotes he was going to use in the article," Sen. Wright-Jones said. "I emailed him back with a list of corrections before his deadline that I believe accurately reflected what I originally told him. Now I read the article and many of the misquotes are still in the article and he added some things I never said. For example, in the bit about the phone payments, I told Jake it was an oversight and it was not intentional. He quotes me as saying 'It's an oversight, to a very large degree.' That's not what I said, and his lack of fealty to the facts permeates his article. Even the very last quote in his story is wrong. I told Jake that 'Our faith tells us to work toward better perfection because we are not perfect,' but Jake adds 'Even if we may not attain it,' which, again, I never said."

Sen. Wright-Jones acknowledges some issues in her campaign finance accounts have arisen due to the illness of her treasurer as well as the transition of her senate staff, but says she has been working diligently to correct the problems and to file amended campaign finance reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

"I sent the proper forms to the MEC by registered mail - which requires a signature - so I know they have them," Sen. Wright-Jones said. "I'm just waiting to hear back from them and will comply with whatever they tell me I need to do to get this squared away. Jake's article, though, makes it seem as if I'm trying to hide something or refuse to play by the rules, when nothing could be further from the truth. For seven years I prepared my own ethics reports when I was in the House and they were always accurate to the penny. For the past three years I have entrusted this work to someone else, but due to the circumstances I outlined to Jake, we failed to do due diligence on all of the reports. My focus is to resolve the issue and move on."

Sen. Wright-Jones says she is disappointed by the tone of Wagman's article in her hometown newspaper and is troubled by the numerous inaccuracies in the story, despite her efforts to correct them.

"It's just a consistent attack on my leadership and my desire to move to the next level," Sen. Wright-Jones said. "By casting aspersions and doubting my leadership abilities, Jake's story is nothing more than hit piece to try to stir things up on a sleepy summer afternoon. He asked me why voters would support me in the future based on what he was going to publish, and I explained to him that I'm the top performing Democrat in the Missouri Senate. I have seven bills, resolutions or major amendments to bills currently before the governor. I told him my record supports the voice of my constituents, and I am the lone voice for the poor, disadvantaged, women, people of color and the gay, lesbian and transgender community in St. Louis. I am very proud of my accomplishments as a public servant, and I will continue to serve the people who elected me to represent them."

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