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PAYOFF ALLEGATIONS: Hit CoMo statehouse campaigns; Still denies involvement

Charges of a big bucks buy-off if candidate would exit State Rep. race

COLUMBIA, 10/1/12 (Beat Byte) -- Missouri State Representative Mary Still is denying charges she offered a significant financial payment to fellow Democrat Nancy Copenhaver if Copenhaver would exit an August primary race with John Wright for the 47th District Missouri House Seat, which includes parts of Columbia and Boone County.

Unconfirmed rumors have swirled for months about the allegations. Tips from credible Democratic sources connected with neither campaign came to this publication in July and again this month.
 
The details are ethically salacious: supporters of Mr. Wright offering a payoff to Mrs. Copenhaver if she would leave the race. Sources initially pegged the figure at $10,000. A particularly audacious allegation unfolded recently: that Rep. Still telephoned Mrs. Copenhaver with the offer from the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives at the state capitol building in Jefferson City.

The charges are "not true," Rep. Still told the Columbia Heart Beat. "No call was made from the House floor and no $10,000 offer."
 
But Copenhaver, a former Missouri State Representative and Moberly City Councilwoman, says otherwise, clarifying only the monetary figure, potentially much larger than $10,000.
 
"It is not a rumor. It is true," Copenhaver told the Heart Beat.

The first public inkling something happened during the primary campaign that troubled Mrs. Copenhaver came when she told the Columbia Daily Tribune that she would not endorse Mr. Wright after he won the August election, an unusual, almost unprecedented decision.

At the time, she declined to specify what she characterizes as "an ethical issue." But when the Heart Beat contacted her last week, Copenhaver said the payoff offer -- which far exceeded the rumored monetary figure -- is what troubled her.

"Mary Still called me and made the 'offer,' which wasn't for $10,000. It was to pay for my ENTIRE campaign if I would run in a different district," she said, emphasizing the point with all caps. "House District Six was the suggestion since it starts two blocks north of my house."

Copenhaver's memory of the phone call is detailed. It came about a week before election filing ended on March 27, she remembers. "Mary called from the House floor and I had to ask her to repeat herself because it was so noisy," Copenhaver explained. "My husband was home at the time."

Though Rep. Still admits phoning Copenhaver to talk about Wright, she denies making any payment offers or calling from the Capitol. "I called Nancy from my home early on, when I learned that John was running," she told the Heart Beat. "I told her what I knew about him, in particular that he would have support from the education community. I knew that Nancy, too, was counting on that support."

Copenhaver is a retired teacher; Wright recently started a public-private Montessori school at Grant Elementary in Columbia.
 
The payoff charges are explosive enough that had Copenhaver discussed them publicly during her primary race with Mr. Wright, they would have set off a "he said, she said" battle that could have alienated voters and made issue-based campaigning virtually impossible.
 
Although she made "no secret of it -- I've told numerous people," Copenhaver decided not to go negative.  Even after a controversy about Wright's fundraising figures -- over $280,000 as of last count -- erupted after he decried big-bucks political contributions at a public forum, Copenhaver limited her public comments about it.

"I felt honor-bound to continue to do my best to run a clean campaign and work as hard as I could," she explained.
 
Though Rep. Still did not answer a question asking if she was aware of the rumors, she did say Copenhaver has never expressed concern about their discussion of John Wright. "Nancy has been to my house since our conversation," she told the Heart Beat.

Wright did not return answers to questions or a request for comment. In the November general election, he faces Republican Mitch Richards, while Rep. Still faces Republican Senator Kurt Schaefer in the 19th District State Senate race.

Wright and Still held a joint fundraising/meet and greet event in Boonville in July.

Although the alleged scheme was a clear signal powerful members of her own party were lined up against her, Copenhaver decided to hang in -- and hang on. "There were a lot of people who spent untold hours helping me, and I couldn't let them down," she said. "There was no amount of money that would have been too much to buy this election."

[Ed. Note: This story marks the first time this publication has had any contact with Nancy Copenhaver. Mrs. Copenhaver did not volunteer the information; we sought her out to confirm or deny the persistent rumors.]
 
 
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