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Manchester Alderman Found in Violation of Campaign Disclosure Laws

Manchester Alderman Michael Clement was fined by the Missouri Ethics Commission for not disclosing the expenses of campaign letters sent to residents, but Clement said it was an honest mistake, not deliberate deceit.

The Missouri Ethics Commission has filed an order of consent against Manchester Ward Two Alderman Michael Clement for violating campaign finance laws during last year's local elections. The order means Clement must pay a fine for committing an ethics violation. Clement admits the error, but said it was simply a mistake and that he was not deliberately being deceitful.

The Missouri Ethics Commission investigated the matter after Dale Schmid, who was running for alderman at the time, and Ward Three Alderman Don Ryan, filed a complaint a month after the April 2010 election. The investigation found Clement in violation of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Law, which says any person who is not on a committee and makes an expenditure of more than $500 in support or against any candidate or ballot measure must report the expense within 14 days of making the expenditure.

Last year, Clement sent three letters to Manchester residents in support of Mayor David Willson, Paul Hamill and Ward Three Alderman John Diehl. Hamill and Diehl were running for alderman against Ward One Alderman Hal Roth and Schmid, while Willson was running for mayor against Ward One Alderman Bob Tullock.

The total expenses of printing and mailing the letters was $2,436.50. Clement should have disclosed the amount within 14 days. However, he did later disclose the campaign expenditure in August 2010, after he had been informed of the violation.

Clement, who was not running for office at the time, said he did not think that as a private individual he had to disclose the expense.

"I felt what I was doing was protected by the First Amendment," Clement said.

Clement also said he was not trying to hide anything because his name, address, e-mail, phone number and photo were included in all of the letters.

"I was not trying to hide who was sending these pieces out," Clement explained.

Clement said he sent the letters because he felt the sent at the time by Tullock, Schmid and Roth was inflammatory.

"I have no regrets," Clement said. "People still see me and thank me for sending those letters. I believe it helped counterbalance the election."

Ryan, who filed one of the of the Missouri Ethics Commission complaints against Clement, said Clement should have known the law better.

"Mr. Clement is no novice," Ryan said. "He's been in elections before. He knows what he can do and cannot do and one thing you cannot do is to hide the expenses in an election. He knows it's illegal — I don't know why he said he didn't know."

Clement was fined $1,000, however, he only has to pay $100 as long as there are no future violations.

Hamill, who served as Clement's attorney during the ethic's investigation, told Patch this was a very minor violation and said he believes it was used as a political strategy to smear Clement's name.

"I think all of this was organized and orchestrated," Hamill said. "I guarantee you they are now going to try to raise this at meetings and try to blow it out of proportion."

Tullock, however, said Clement violated the law and it had to be reported.

"If I see anyone violating the law or the appearance of impropriety, I have a duty to report that illegal activity and not just as an elected official, but as a resident of our fine city," Tullock said. "We can disagree on the issues, but we all must remember that we are still neighbors in the same city and let's, at the very least, refrain from any unethical behavior. I hope the voters will take this into consideration when they go to vote this April."

Hamill said he believes Tullock will use this ethics violation and other tactics to threaten anyone who opposes him.

"He's been involved in a lot of lawsuits," Hamill said. "People are very scared of coming out and opposing him, some of it may be a threat of a lawsuit, but most importantly they have seen what he has done in the past. He would smear and threaten them with his campaign literature."

Documents related to this article are included with the photos near the top of this article and can be viewed by readers.

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