Stenger campaign loans could return six-figure payout

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Fox 2/KPLR 11 is tracking six-figure loans made to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s campaign.

Over the last decade, Stenger has loaned his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars. If he charges the interest he says he will in campaign finance reports, it could be a large return on his investment.

Stenger set a St. Louis County record for the amount his campaign raised. Watchdog Tom Sullivan tracked it.

“I have not seen anything like the amount of money Steve Stenger raised this last election,” Sullivan. “He collected nearly $5 million in contributions.”

Sullivan was the first to ring the alarm about mysterious contributions, that were later tied to developers at Northwest Crossing. He spoke out at a county meeting, demanding answers about who was behind contributors like Givco LLC.

At an August 4, 2015 meeting, Sullivan warned County Commissioners, “It should be remembered that Mr. Stenger’s campaign committee is $405,000 in debt and it's almost all owed to Mr. Stenger. So many of the campaign contributions to Citizens for Stenger could very well end up going into Mr. Stenger’s pocket.”

Sullivan said this after noticing Steven Stenger loaning his own campaign money.

According to the Missouri Ethic’s Commission, Steve Stenger first began loaning his campaign money at no interest in 2008 – five loans totaling $163,000.00 at no interest.

Later, the reports show Stenger started charging his campaign interest:

- 8% on a $100,000 loan in July 2013
- 8% again on a $100,000 loan in July 2014
- 8% interest on $100,000 loan in October 2014

Then, last November, exactly one week after Stenger won re-election as the St. Louis County Executive, his campaign paid him back $393,000 with this notation: “…repayment of loans to Steve Stenger - principal only, interest is being calculated to be paid in the future.”

A county executive’s spokesperson responded by phone, saying, “Stenger is not planning on charging the interest.”

Attorney Matt Vianello says it's legal.

“Certainly, under the law, it’s not a problem for a candidate to want to get money paid back that they put in,” he said.

Vianello has represented politicians accused of violating campaign finance laws.

“You’re allowed to make a loan and you’re allowed to have that loan paid back. Now if there’s a quid pro quo tied to it – you scratch our back, I’ll scratch yours. That’s a problem in any situation,” he said.

That’s what Sullivan wondered years ago as he saw that $393,000 owed to Stenger and then watched contributions tied to one developer nearly match that debt. ($356,000 contributed by companies with ties to the Northwest Crossing developers).

“It certainly tells you there is something very wrong here when you have a county executive taking in $365,000 and, in return, he provides the developers with a contract worth as much as $50 million,” Sullivan said.

That may be what caught the attention of federal investigators, who recently demanded Stenger's communications with contributors.

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