JEFFERSON CITY — Steve Tilley, lobbyist for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, is co-hosting a high-dollar fundraiser for Gov. Mike Parson next week, according to a copy of an invitation obtained by the Post-Dispatch.
Guests are asked to spend between $2,600 and $25,000 at the fundraiser, with money going toward Parson's campaign committee and its sister political action committee, Uniting Missouri, which does not have to adhere to campaign contribution limits imposed after a 2016 ballot initiative.
The fundraiser comes as Missouri officials are finalizing rules for the state's fledgling medical marijuana program, which is scheduled to launch next year.
In addition to representing the medical pot trade group, Tilley also represents Florida-based BiotrackTHC, a marijuana products software company seeking a state contract to help Missouri run the medical marijuana program. The company did not win a potentially lucrative state contract, and its attorney has filed a challenge to the decision with the state that as of last week was unresolved.
"We have a very broad cross-section of supporters who contribute," said John Hancock, chairman of Uniting Missouri. "The governor really is not very involved in the fundraising and solicitations at all."
Hancock said the identities of all donors are disclosed.
"My job with the PAC is to raise money," he said. "We are raising money and every nickel we raise is disclosed."
Missouri voters legalized medical marijuana in November, starting a stampede of business owners looking to capitalize on the new market.
By 2025, sales of the various forms of the product are expected to top $100 million.
Under the new law, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is required to grant at least 24 dispensary licenses in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts, for a total of 192.
The law also calls for the state to license 60 growers and 86 processing facilities.
The complete list of applicants is not known because the state will not release their names. The Post-Dispatch has filed a lawsuit alleging the state is violating the Sunshine Law.
Officials have said the text of a constitutional amendment authorizing the program precludes them from doing so, but one of the men who pushed for the amendment has said backers never intended for the names of applicants to be kept secret.
Tilley’s involvement in the fundraiser comes after Parson collected at least $15,000 in campaign contributions from a separate consortium involved in the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana business.
The contributions to Parson’s Uniting Missouri PAC came on March 4. They include $5,000 from Blonie Dudney, a St. Louis eye doctor who is heading a newly formed medical marijuana company called Artemis Therapeutics.
The other $5,000 contributions are from JoAnn’s Greenhouse, a Perryville retail plant grower and distributor, and Richard Buchheit, the son of the greenhouse owners, where Dudney wants to open his growing facility if he wins a license.
Tilley, who is also a former Missouri House speaker, is not the only host of the fundraiser.
Others include Sterling Bank of Poplar Bluff, which is involved in the state's low-income housing tax credit program that former Gov. Eric Greitens helped freeze in late 2017.
Greitens' exit led to Parson's elevation to governor from his former post as lieutenant governor.
John Bardgett, of John Bardgett & Associates, is also listed as a co-host. That company has had to respond to pay-to-play allegations regarding a contract it won to lobby for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.
In a statement, John Bardgett said his firm had worked for 31 years with St. Louis County and its economic development organizations.
“This has occurred through the administrations of 5 county executives of different party affiliations — we do not, have not and never will place any conditions on any contribution to any organization,” he said in an email last month regarding the Stenger indictment.
Michael Hafner, a former campaign adviser to former Gov. Eric Greitens, who eventually testified against the governor in a campaign finance scandal, is listed as a coordinator for the fundraiser on the invitation.
"I haven't been working with Parson or his team up until a month and a half ago or two months ago," he said. "They approached me because they needed help coordinating fundraising."
He said he is a long-time political consultant who has worked for several candidates. Hafner said he is still paying off legal bills stemming from the Greitens scandal.
"I've had a role in these high-level races for literally my entire career," he said.
The fundraiser is scheduled for next Tuesday evening at the Dean Team Automotive Group location in Maplewood, 7700 Manchester Road.