Updated 10:03 with the Kwame Building Group's response.
In a late afternoon press conference Thursday, Board of Alderman President and mayoral candidate Lewis Reed accused incumbent Mayor Francis Slay of engaging in a "pay-to-play" system where businesses seeking construction contracts have to first make a donation to the mayor's campaign. The mayor's staff insisted that there are too many safeguards for this to even be possible.
Reed and his campaign doled out about a half dozen hefty stacks of papers to the media. Each stack was roughly 2 inches thick. The press conference began at 3, granting little time for broadcasters to pore over the considerable documentation before the evening newscasts.
Standing at a podium at City Hall, Reed said Slay's administration awarded over $40 million in contracts, 80 percent of which went to vendors that gave money to Slay.
"It certainly appears that he's leveraged his office and the Board of Public Service to benefit his politics," Slay told the half dozen members of the media gathered.
The packet contained public contracts and campaign finance reports, showing close proximity in the dates of campaign contributions and public contracts. According to the Reed campaign's packet, Slay received $103,000 from so-called "no bid contracts."
But Slay's staff contends there is no such thing as a no bid contract, and that Reed has a basic misunderstanding of the contracting process through the Board of Public Service.
"Almost nothing Mr. Reed said is true, and it belies the fact that after 12 years in City Hall, he has no idea how things work," Jeff Rainford, Slay's Chief of Staff told reporters after the press conference.
Eddie Roth, city Director of Operations, oversees the Board of Public Service, which awards these contracts.
"There are so many checks and balances that the kind of thing alleged today would literally be impossible to undertake, even for the most diabolical person." Roth said, and outlined the process by which the contracts are awarded. "You start out with a five-person selection committee, two of whom are from the Board of Public Service, two of whom are from the agency soliciting the service and the fifth is an at-large city employee with expertise in the work that's being done."
"These are fiercely competitive industries. They are on these contracts and requests for qualifications," Roth said. "If they feel there's any sort of gamesmanship, they are all over it. To accomplish the kind of problems Mr. Reed has raised would require a conspiracy of silence."
The Kwame Building Group was one of the businesses that Reed alleges engaged in "pay-for-play" practices. And on a speaker phone in City Hall, the business's CEO was none too pleased.
"That accusation is totally ridiculous," Tony Thompson, CEO and Chairman of the Kwame Building Group. "I've always supported this mayor, I supported him when he was an alderman and I support him when he's mayor. And I also supported Lewis Reed when he was President of the Board of Alderman."
During the press conference, Reed did not deny that some of the businesses he was accusing had also donated to him, saying that it's possible since he's been in politics for some time. According to campaign finance reports, Thompson's Kwame Building Group gave $1,000 to Reed's campaign on June 6 of last year. The business has donated $6,750 to Slay's campaign.
"I hope Reed spends it wisely, because he'll never get another dime," Thompson said.
This was only the latest attack in an already embittered campaign that ends in just a few weeks. Earlier this week, Slay and Reed bickered over tax disclosures and alleged slush funds. After the press conference, Slay and Reed supporters squabbled over whether or not a Slay supporter could take a packet.
St. Louis Public Radio has kept a running tally on the largest donors and donations to the two campaigns. After looking through Reed's sizable packet, it appears only one of the businesses awarded contracts through the Board of Public Service is a large enough donor to make it onto our large donor list: Burns & McDonnell, which has donated $10,000 to the campaign this year. Below you can see the largest donors for both campaigns, although it is worth noting that our large donation graph only deals with information from 2012 to now.
Slay is running a $3 million campaign, and the $103,000 taken from all the contractors combined is a fraction of the total money he has amassed. And as you can see, his largest donor (libertarian billionaire Rex Sinquefield) dwarfs that amount.
But Reed also points to an email from 2011 that shows the President of the Board of Public Service, Rich Bradley, urging recipients to enter a $500 per person golf fundraiser for the mayor.
"Rich Bradley screwed up," Rainford said.
"He sent an email using the city email and he shouldn't have done it. As soon as he sent it, he knew it was a mistake after he did it and apologized," Roth said. "Nothing he did was unlawful, but he should not have used the email system."
You can read that email below.
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel