Screenshot from a TV ad by Truth in Politics.

A group reportedly founded by local business people who claim to have no special interests are funding about $30,000 worth of TV ads that attack Springfield Public Schools board candidate Charles Taylor and promote candidates Kelly Byrne and Steve Makoski.

The nonprofit group calling itself Truth in Politics does not disclose information on its website about its organizers.

However, 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 most recent campaign finance filing and Byrne’s treasurer, Tyler Creach, listed on his recently deactivated or privatized LinkenIn account that he is the chief financial officer for Jared Enterprises. Byrne’s filing lists the company address as the treasurer’s mailing address.

In an interview, Byrne said he had no connection to the 30-second ad, which alleges that Taylor “hijacks meetings so he can push critical race theories over and over again.” Along with accusations against Taylor, the ad airing on KY3 shows images of Byrne and Makoski, including an image of Byrne with his wife and two children. (See screenshot images from the TV ad below.)

“I had no knowledge of this whatsoever,” Byrne said. “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.”

At a candidate event at Ozarks Technical Community College Wednesday night, Byrne said that, while he has publicly requested in interviews with the Springfield News-Leader and the Springfield Daily Citizen, that the ad be removed from the air, he has not reached out to Truth in Politics to make the request.

I’m kind of aware of who that group is, but here’s the thing, I can’t. I can’t have communication with them on these sorts of things. … I had no understanding of what they were doing, only that … some of the people who had been mentioned in the News-Leader article wanted to support me. That’s all I know.

Kelly Byrne

“Not directly, I wouldn’t even know who to talk to,” he said. “I’m kind of aware of who that group is, but here’s the thing, I can’t. I can’t have communication with them on these sorts of things. So I don’t know where exactly those lines are, if I talk to them. I have to stay out of that thing entirely, which is why I had no understanding of what they were doing, only that I had some understanding that some of the people who had been mentioned in the News-Leader article wanted to support me. That’s all I know. Beyond that, I have no involvement in it. I can’t have any involvement in it. And they chose to do what they were going to do. And even if I do, or did reach out to them and said stop, they have no reason to listen to me.”

Makoski, citing Missouri Ethics Commission rules, also said he could not have contact with Truth in Politics.

“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.”

Makoski posted a message on his Facebook campaign page stating, “Please be advised that any advertisement or printed material that does NOT include ‘Paid For By Makoski For SPS, Treasurer Steve Helms,’ has not been approved by me and is not associated with my campaign.”

The district, its school board and Superintendent Grenita Lathan are among the defendants who were sued last August by two SPS teachers who allege their rights were violated during district training sessions in which elements of critical race theory, a method of examining systemic inequality and racism that has become a polarizing political issue, were embedded in the training. Lathan has told the Springfield Daily Citizen that CRT is not being taught in SPS classrooms. 

Both Byrne and Makoski have said they believe critical race theory has no place in Springfield schools. Byrne said he has read a 2003 textbook on the subject, and concluded that CRT is “divisive in nature.”

He declined to address the Truth in Politics ad’s remarks on Taylor and CRT, saying those were questions for Taylor. Taylor, who became a board member in 2016, said the campaign ad was materially false, and disprovable to anyone who has attended or has watched board meetings since he became a member.

“I may do many things, but hijacking meetings is rarely one of them,” he said. “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.”

The Truth in Politics website offers no names of the people behind it. 

“We are business leaders — no special interests or undercover influence,” the website states. 

Four Springfield area business leaders are linked to Truth in Politics through a State of Missouri Secretary of State annual registration report filed last Aug. 5. Jared is listed as director and president of the nonprofit. Along with George Husted, a former Axiom Strategies compliance associate and Missouri State University alum who is listed as a director, treasurer and secretary, three local businessmen are listed as directors — Lee Fraley, Royce 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.

Messages left by phone or by email to each of the directors have not been returned. 

In a Federal Communications Commission political broadcast agreement document filed in connection with the ad buy, none of the directors are listed as contacts for Truth in Politics. Instead, Robert Phillips III, president of campaign finance management firm HenryAlan, is listed on the form. HenryAlan was acquired by Kansas City-based Axiom Strategies, a top consulting firm for conservative candidates and causes. AxMedia, a wing of Axiom Strategies, made the ad purchases for the anti-Taylor ad, which is airing on KY 3 up until April 5, election day. A call to Axiom Strategies was not returned.

Asked how he will spend the final days of his campaign leading up to the election, Taylor said: “Precisely as I have spent them to this point, trying to make an affirmative case for reelection to the board. I’m not running against anyone, even though there are four other candidates in the race. I’m running for reelection on my record and where I think we ought to be going as a district. I will not return fire. I won’t play the negative games.”

Taylor, Byrne and Makoski are among five candidates running for two open seats on the school board. Brandi VanAntwerp and Chad Courtney are also running for the school board.

Courtney did not attend Wednesday’s candidate event at OTC. VanAntwerp, who also ran for a school board position in 2021, said that she was completely surprised when two fellow candidates in the local election were the subject of anonymous texts that attacked them for supporting “drag queen values.”

“I knew this year that there was a good chance that it would happen again, and I was just hoping it wouldn’t,” she said. “And we got really far this year without anything happening. I think I let my guard down a little bit. So when I saw it, I was pretty saddened by all of it.”

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