Jackson County Legislature campaign billboards raise funding questions

Campaign committee not set for candidate

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Just west of Sterling on 24 Highway in Independence you'll find a Charlie Franklin campaign billboard.

Franklin is running in the Democratic Primary for the Third District seat in the Jackson County Legislature which serves Independence and Sugar Creek.

At the bottom of the billboard, the ad reads "paid for by Friends for Charlie Franklin, Donna Franklin Treasurer".

But according to Missouri Ethics Commission Director James Klahr in an email sent to the 41 Action News Investigators Wednesday, "We do not have any record of this committee".

Campaign committees must register with the Ethics Commission to publicly keep track of campaign funding. 

"I don't know how a lawbreaker can be a lawmaker," said Paul Wrabec, one of Franklin's two opponents in the Democratic Primary.

"It may be a rookie mistake, he's not a career politician," said Lois McDonald, the other Democratic Primary candidate.

Denny Waits, who served 32 years in the Third District seat, is supporting Franklin.

When Waits dropped his re-election bid close to the filing deadline, that deadline was extended for a week under law because the incumbent had left the race.

Wrabec was the lone Democratic Party candidate until both McDonald and Franklin entered the race during the extended filing period.

In an article in the Examiner newspaper, Franklin is quoted as saying Waits asked him to run.

"He said if I wanted to get in, he would support me," Franklin said of Waits.

"Denny Waits is the puppeteer and Charlie Franklin is the puppet," Wrabec said.

The 24 Highway ad is one of four Franklin billboards scattered around Independence.

Franklin touted his experience as an accountant in those ads which say "Bring Balance to Jackson County".

"Charlie I know is an attorney and he's a CPA. He's held a little bit more above the law than Joe Blow on the street," Wrabec said.

Representatives of billboard companies told the 41 Action News Investigators the billboards cost roughly $2,000 to $5,000 per month.

State law requires campaign contributions in excess of $5,000 to be reported within 48 hours to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

But because Franklin's campaign committee isn't set up, there's no public record of who is footing the bill for the billboards.

"Probably Denny Waits has the answer to that and I would follow the money," Wrabec said.

"Someone that asks you to run probably with that kind of experience should be more knowledgeable than for allowing this type of error," McDonald said.

"Charlie files on Friday, he's got billboards up on Monday so that means this was all set into place, there was a plan of attack," Wrabec said.

The billboards aren't Franklin's only problem.

He signed a campaign disclosure form called a 5120.

The form states under penalty of perjury a candidate is unaware of any tax delinquency.

Franklin signed the form May 22.

On Wednesday, the 41 Action News Investigators found Jackson County records showing Franklin is late on 2017 taxes for two properties he owns in Independence.

"The documents that you sign, you are responsible for, so it's concerning," McDonald said.

"I think Charlie Franklin ought to withdraw and that would be the right thing to do. There's no doubt he's violated the law many times," Wrabec said.

The 41 Action News Investigators have attempted to contact both Franklin and Waits several times without success for either man.

On Friday, an assistant at Waits law firm said Waits wouldn't be in the office because he was going to be putting up campaign signs with Franklin.

Both Wrabec and McDonald said they haven't accepted any campaign funds or spent any money on their campaigns yet because they're waiting for the Missouri Ethics Commission to approve their campaign committees.

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