Springfield school board candidates Kelly Byrne, Charles Taylor and Steve Makoski.

Steve Makoski, a leader in campaign donations in the race for two open Springfield Public School board seats, received a $1,000 donation from an individual with ties to someone who has been listed as a Truth in Politics director.

James Nevins donated $1,000 to Makoski’s campaign on March 9, according to the latest Missouri Ethics Commission filing submitted by Makoski’s campaign team. Nevins’ professional history is tied to Royce Reding, who was listed as a director of Truth in Politics in the organization’s most recent Missouri Secretary of State filings. Nevins co-founded a company called Nevont with Reding, who also worked on political campaigns for U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield. Nevont is a Springfield company that provides “expert advice on comprehensive employee benefit options,” according to its website. Nevins’ contribution was one of four four-figure donations to the Makoski campaign in March, which has amassed over $41,000 during the run-up to the April 5 election. 

Makoski has not replied to a request for comment sent on Monday.

Truth in Politics is a group that released an attack ad aimed at school board candidate Charles Taylor. The ad also supports Makoski and SPS candidate Kelly Byrne, both of whom have said they had no knowledge of the ad before seeing it after it aired. 

Byrne and Makoski lead in funding by significant margins. The Byrne campaign has amassed the most funding, reporting on Monday that $47,704 has been raised. Makoski is not far behind, with $41,262. Chad Courtney has raised $14,643 so far, including a $329 donation from current board member Scott Crise. Brandi VanAntwerp has raised $13,454 so far. Taylor has $6,417.

Taylor, the only current SPS board member running for election, was the target of the Truth in Politics campaign ad that began running on KY3 last week. The ad alleges that Taylor, who has said critical race theory has not and should not be taught in SPS classrooms, “hijacks meetings so he can push critical race theories over and over again.” 

“I may do many things, but hijacking meetings is rarely one of them,” Taylor said last week. “It’s an unfortunate sign of the times, I think. I do think that Springfield is better than this level of discourse. Beyond being factually untrue, it’s also unhelpful. Anonymous posting is troubling in and of itself. We will see on April 5 whether this kind of discourse is convincing to the public. I am hopeful that it will not be.”

Makoski and Byrne say that CRT has been present in teacher training, pointing to SPS staff equity training material referenced in Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuit against Springfield Public Schools. But both disavowed the Truth in Politics ad that came out in support of them. 

“I can’t get involved with that,” Makoski said. “You’re always going to have political action committees out there. And I don’t have anything to do with them. I can’t.”

“I had no knowledge of this whatsoever,” Byrne said last week. “I was not consulted. I was not asked. I was not shown anything. And to be quite honest, I’m put off by it to say the least. I don’t think it was in good taste, and I don’t appreciate my family being involved in it, visually.”

Truth in Politics does not disclose information on its website about its organizers, but Springfield businessman Curtis Jared was listed in an Aug. 5, 2021, Missouri Secretary of State filing as president and a director of Truth in Politics. Jared donated $2,000 to Byrne’s campaign, according to Byrne’s 40-day campaign finance filing. Byrne’s treasurer, Tyler Creach, listed on his recently deactivated or privatized LinkedIn account that he is the chief financial officer for Jared Enterprises. Byrne’s filing lists the company address as the treasurer’s mailing address.

The Truth in Politics website offers no names of the people behind it. Along with Jared, three local businessmen are listed as directors — Lee Fraley, Reding and Sam Clifton. Fraley owns Fraley Masonry. Reding worked on political campaigns for U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, before co-founding Nevont, an employee benefits brokerage. Clifton owns Millstone Custom Homes. Calls or emails each of the four last week have been unreturned. An email sent Monday to the Nevont office in search of comment from Nevins and Reding has not received a response.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson