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Donation to Missouri AG riles plaintiffs in lead-poisoning suit against St. Louis company

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced Thursday he is investigating the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).
Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent
Andrew Bailey’s re-election campaign for Missouri attorney general received a $50,000 check from Doe Run’s parent company, New York-based Renco Group.

Over the summer, Attorney General Andrew Bailey joined in the effort to try to convince a federal court to move a lead-poisoning lawsuit against a St. Louis company out of Missouri.

The litigation in question was filed by thousands of people from Peru suing Doe Run Resources Corp. over alleged injuries caused by its lead smelter in that country.

Bailey filed an amicus brief, signed by his solicitor general, arguing that the lawsuit should be handled by courts in Peru, where the plaintiffs live and where the pollution took place.

Doe Run’s corporate headquarters is in St. Louis.

Less than three months later, Bailey’s re-election campaign got a major boost. A political action committee created to support his 2024 hopes got a $50,000 check from Doe Run’s parent company, New York-based Renco Group.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs cried foul, asking a federal court to either throw Bailey’s brief out altogether or require him to amend it to acknowledge the five-figure contribution.

Plaintiffs noted Renco has only waded into Missouri politics twice: Last month for Bailey, and in 2018 for Gov. Mike Parson, shortly after he, too, tried to get the case to be moved to Peru.

“Renco seemingly has only ever made two donations to Missouri state politicians — and both closely coincided with the recipients intervening in this litigation to help Renco,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the attorney general said the office is not a party in the lawsuit.

“We filed an amicus brief not in the interest of a company or individual but rather to protect our state judicial system from abuse by foreign plaintiffs,” said Madeline Sieren, communications director for the Missouri attorney general’s office.

A spokesperson for Doe Run said there is “nothing improper or even newsworthy about Doe Run’s parent company supporting political officials in Missouri, and its support for pro-business candidates is nothing new.

“Attorney General Bailey took a principled position in the best interest of Missouri,” the company said, “that has nothing to do with political donations.”

But the Renco donation is not the first time Bailey’s political operation has caused headaches for his official office.

In April, Bailey announced he was recusing the office from a lawsuit against the Missouri State Highway Patrol accusing it of harassment and a “concerted campaign of threats” against companies that profit from unregulated slot machines.

Bailey did not specify what conflict of interest inspired his departure from the case, which had been ongoing for more than two years at that point.

But the announcement came after Liberty and Justice PAC — formed to bolster his 2024 campaign for a full term as attorney general next year — received large campaign contributions from a constellation of PACs linked to the two companies that brought the lawsuit against the state — Torch Electronics and Warrenton Oil.

The case was eventually dismissed, a result that is under appeal.

La Oroya, Peru

The La Oroya smelter in central Peru, some 108 miles east of the capital city of Lima, opened in 1922, though Doe Run only run began running it in the late 1990s. And in 2007, Doe Run Peru became a separate company under the Renco Group, filing for bankruptcy two years later.

The smelter is one of just a handful in the world that can process multiple metals, including copper and lead, as well as refine zinc.

The city of La Oroya has been called one of the 10 most polluted places in the world by the Blacksmith Institute, a New York-based environmental organization. In one study, by St. Louis University in 2005, more than 90% of children from La Oroya had excessive levels of lead in their bodies.

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that is especially harmful to children. Scientists agree there is no safe level of lead exposure.

A pair of lawsuits against Doe Run, filed more than a decade ago, include around 3,000 plaintiffs accusing the company of harming them with toxic lead emissions, among other pollutants. Both cases are in federal court in St. Louis, and judges have repeatedly rejected efforts to move the proceedings to Peru.

In his brief, filed in July, Bailey argues the sheer number of plaintiffs will have the effect of “clogging Missouri courts” and delaying justice for Missourians.

The lawsuits also risk undermining the sovereignty of Peru, Bailey argues.

“Faced with a factory that produced both bad outputs (substantial pollution) and good outputs (thousands of jobs in a region struggling economically), Peru decided not to throw the good out with the bad,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “It instead sought to limit pollution while allowing the facility to continue operating.”

If a Missouri company can be hauled into state court over matters that took place overseas, Bailey contends, “then any company that wants to engage in foreign investment will think twice before establishing a presence in Missouri.”

Parson’s office made a similar argument in 2018 in a letter to then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, first reported at the time by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, asking for assistance in moving the litigation from federal court in St. Louis to Peru.

The brief Bailey filed in the case includes a footnote saying no outside entity “made a monetary contribution to the preparation or submission of this brief.”

Even though the $50,000 contribution was made three months later, plaintiffs attorneys argue the court should direct Bailey to “correct that statement or should strike the brief altogether.”

“(Attorney) General Bailey reportedly withdrew from one recent matter in part because a party to that matter had indirectly donated $25,000 to the Liberty and Justice PAC,” plaintiffs wrote, referring to the illegal gambling lawsuit. “This case — involving a party’s direct $50,000 campaign donation to the same PAC — merits the same result.”

The two previous GOP attorneys general — Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt — declined to intervene in the case.

While Renco has only ever made two large donations in Missouri, Doe Run has a long history of involvement in state politics, including $16,000 in donations to various candidates and committees last year.

In Doe Run’s statement to The Independent, the company noted that one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Jerry Schlichter, is also a regular campaign donor in Missouri. According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, Schlichter gave around $8,000 last year and around $40,000 this year, mostly to local Democratic candidates in St. Louis.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Jason Hancock is a reporter covering politics and policy for The Missouri Independent.