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Brunner spending money on more ads, more staff

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 5, 2012 - Republican U.S. Senate hopeful John Brunner is spending lots of money this week, as he launches his third statewide television ad and hires four new members of his campaign staff.

His first campaign report documenting his money-raising, his spending -- and how much he has put in of his own money -- won't be filed until the end of this month.

Brunner, a wealthy St. Louis businessman, highlights in his new ad the fiscal challenges that he faced when he first took over his then-family-owned firm, Vi-Jon, which makes personal care products, notably Germ-X.

The ad's aim, his campaign says, is to contrast Brunner's business approach to that of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who he hopes to replace. First, Brunner must defeat several Republican rivals.

The ad focuses on the financial challenges facing Brunner in the mid 1990s.  As his campaign explains:  "After purchasing Vi-Jon, his family business, financial consultants told Brunner the only way to save the business was to stimulate growth with massive spending, new equipment and new buildings, all by getting approval from the banks to increase the debt limit. It did not take long before Brunner knew the business was in bigger trouble. The "borrow and spend" program was not working."

"Facing disaster, Brunner made tough decisions, cut spending, sold the excessive building and equipment, paid off the debt, and put the company's financial house in order,'' the campaign added. "Brunner's leadership brought the company back, growing it from 80 jobs to 1,400 jobs while he was running the company.

The ad features footage from Brunner's kickoff this fall at a company warehouse in St. Charles, where he was surrounded by supportive employees. The spot highlights that Brunner added "hundreds of jobs."

The ad doesn't mention that a private equity firm took over much of the ownership of Vi-Jon in 2006, or that the company laid off an undisclosed number of workers this fall, just a few weeks after Brunner's campaign launch.

Those omissions already have prompted Democratic jabs. "John Brunner's shamelessness is really astonishing. John Brunner calls himself a 'job creator,' on the same factory floor where he just laid off workers,'' said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki.

As he's ramping up his TV image, Brunner also is taking on more staff. He announced Wednesday that he had hired four new campaign aides, several of them well-known among Missouri Republicans. They include:

--Miriam Stonebraker as political director. Stonebraker has been a fixture with major statewide Missouri campaigns for the past decade, serving for a time with the state Republican Party and most recently as political director at John Hancock & Associates, a Missouri-based political consulting, research, government relations, and public affairs firm.

-- Todd Abrajano as communications director. He previously headed communications for the Missouri House in; 2005 and 2006, and earlier worked on a number of campaigns in Missouri and elsewhere. In 2008, he oversaw the media "Spin Room'' for the vice presidential debate, held at Washington University.

--- Katie McBreen as finance director. She has overseen fundraising for a number of national Republican groups and major candidates. Most recently, she was the deputy finance director for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's now-scuttled 2012 campaign for president.

-- Miles Ross as Western Missouri director. He has been involved in a number of Republican campaigns, including serving from 2002- 2009 as executive director of Friends of Roy Blunt.

Earlier, Brunner hired campaign manager Jon Seaton, and retains John Hancock and Rich Chrismer -- both also Missouri political veterans -- as campaign advisers.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.