Mike Parson has made it clear to anyone who will listen that he’s done with elected office when term limits force him from the Missouri governor’s mansion next year. 

Yet the political action committee created by his supporters continues taking five-figure checks, with the lion’s share of that money spent on private plane travel. 

Uniting Missouri PAC paid more than $110,000 during the first three months of 2023 to an aviation company connected to lobbyist and longtime Parson adviser Steve Tilley.  The other large 2023 expenditure was $56,000 to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fundraising event on Feb. 12. 

Uniting Missouri reported raising $173,000 during the first quarter, most of that from four sources — $50,000 from Protection Plus LLC; $50,000 from Evergy Metro Inc.; $35,000 from Martin Grain Company; and $35,000 from J & J Ventures Gaming.

Parson’s campaign committee, which unlike Uniting Missouri must abide by campaign donation limits, reported raising onlly $359 during the first three months of 2023, with $263,000 cash on hand. 

Tom Burcham, a spokesman for Uniting Missouri and an attorney from Farmington, said he has no idea whether Parson will ever run for office again. 

“I obviously don’t speak for him or his campaign,” Burcham said. “I have no idea why you think I would. Uniting Missouri raises and spends its own money ethically and legally. It’s all in the report.”

Private planes

When Parson attended this year’s Super Bowl in Arizona, he did not clarify how he planned to get there. When asked in February if Uniting Missouri would pick up the cost,  Burcham said details of the governor’s travel would be disclosed at the appropriate time. 

Burcham then said former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, didn’t get similar scrutiny. 

“Honest reporting about the Super Bowl this year will include the fact that Jay Nixon took private planes and attended sporting events free of charge,” he said. 

Nixon did use a private plane to attend a World Series game in Boston in 2013. Weeks after the game, his campaign reported a $16,000 in-kind contribution from Kansas trial attorney Michael Ketchmark. There is no record of a similar expense by Nixon’s campaign in 2011, when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers in the World Series. 

The 2013 trip did not garner much scrutiny at the time, as Nixon faced far more criticism from the media and GOP lawmakers over his use of the state-owned plane

Nixon regularly used the state plane and billed the cost to state agencies instead of his own office. As his time in office wound down in 2016, Nixon faced scrutiny for using the state plane to commute to the Capitol from St. Louis, where he had purchased a new home. 

When Eric Greitens took over as governor in 2017, he shunned the state plane, instead relying on private and campaign funds to pay for travel around the country. That drew its own criticism, as lawmakers worried it would undermine transparency protocols. 

Greitens resigned in 2018, bringing Parson into office, who began using the state plane again. The St. Joseph News-Press documented 130 trips on the state-owned Beechcraft King Air 250 during Parson’s first two years in office. That included 20 trips to Bolivar, where Parson’s personal residence is located. 

The governor also occasionally relied on private planes to travel outside of Missouri. 

In 2020, the Missouri Ethics Commission fined Uniting Missouri $2,000 for failing to properly report the value of a pair of private plane flights that Parson took to Washington, D.C., and Miami.

Last year, Uniting Missouri reported roughly $35,000 in donations related to private plane travel. That includes a $20,000 in-kind donation from IGH Aviation LLC for travel to a golf fundraiser in Wisconsin

In its most recent disclosure report, Uniting Missouri reported paying IGH Aviation $33,000 and $19,000 on March 28 and $59,000 on March 31. 

According to incorporation paperwork filed with the secretary of state’s office, IGH Aviation was registered by Tilley’s sister, Kristal Brickhaus. The company’s address is the same as a “Beef ‘O’ Brady’s” restaurant in Perryville that lists Tilley as its owner.

IGH Aviation is listed as the owner of a Dassault Falcon 900, a French-built corporate trijet aircraft. 

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.