A political attack ad targeting Springfield school board incumbent Charles Taylor started airing Monday on KY3.
The 30-second ad paid for by Truth In Politics alleges the school district is “paralyzed by politics” and falsely claims that Taylor — first elected in 2016 — “hijacks meetings so he can push critical race theories over and over again.”
The ad juxtaposes stark images of Taylor against sunny stock images of children, in and out of classrooms, as a voiceover asks: “How does that solve the problem of Springfield students’ ACT scores plummeting? It doesn’t.”
Campaign photos of Steve Makoski and Kelly Byrne — including a photo of Byrne with his wife and two children — are shown as the ad concludes by saying: “It’s time to get back to priorities. Elect Kelly Byrne and Steve Makoski. Let’s put parents back in control. Let’s put children first for a change.”
Taylor, Byrne and Makoski responded to the News-Leader’s request for comment. They are among five candidates — along with Chad Courtney and Brandi VanAntwerp — on the April 5 ballot.
“The ad is materially false. However, that isn’t what concerns me most,” said Taylor, a professor of communication at Drury University. “What disappoints me even more is that the campaign, SPS, our community, and our democracy deserves better.”
In response to the News-Leader, Byrne said the ad was in “very poor taste” and pointed to a statement posted on his Facebook campaign page.
“I just saw a commercial in support of me that tears down another candidate. This was not my commercial. I was not consulted. It does not represent the way I wish to run my campaign. I do not support this ad or its attempts to slander another candidate who I may not always agree with but I believe is a well-intentioned man volunteering to serve his community,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I do not support CRT being in our schools but I would not make a direct attack toward another candidate.”
Byrne, a real estate investor and developer, noted if the “paid for by” information on an ad does not include his name or the name of his treasurer Tyler Creach, it did not come from his campaign.
“I’d like to use the platform of the News-Leader to request the ad be removed from the air,” Byrne said in a follow-up message. “My wife and kids are pictured in the ad and this is not the example I would like to set as a father.”
Makoski, director of compliance at Rapid Roberts, said his campaign is not associated with the message.
“I would encourage others to remain focused on the true purpose of why I am running, to improve academic success for our children at SPS,” he said.
In August 2021, a group called Truth In Politics registered with the Missouri Secretary of State. And despite listing its headquarters in Jefferson City, the filing includes familiar names.
The president of the group is Curtis Jared, president and CEO of Jared Commercial in Springfield. A message was left Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.
Curtis Jared donated $2,000 to Byrne’s campaign in early 2022. He also donated to his unsuccessful board campaign in 2021.
The board of directors includes Lee Fraley, Royce Reding, Sam Clifton, George Husted and Jared.
Fraley is a member of the Springfield Council of Better Business, recently launched as an alternative to the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Clifton is a builder based in Nixa, and Reding was a campaign adviser to U.S. Rep. Billy Long.
In interviews, Byrne and Makoski said they believe the controversial critical race theory — a political lightning rod in Springfield and across the U.S. — was part of diversity and equity training for district employees.
Taylor has stated: “I do not believe that critical race theory is part of SPS curriculum, nor do I think it should be. It’s simply not developmentally appropriate.”
As noted in the political ad, the composite ACT score for the district has declined in recent years.
For the 2019-20 year, the last one before pandemic disruptions, the score was 19.5 out of a possible 36 with 1,561 seniors taking the college-readiness exam. The score five years earlier, with roughly the same number of test-takers, was slightly higher 20.8.
Ten years earlier, when just 994 seniors took the exam, the ACT score was much higher at 22.9.
The Springfield-based Truth In Politics group, with an address on West Republic Road, is described as a social welfare organization or 501(c)4.
According to its website, the group was founded by local business leaders who came together to promote accountability in government and hold officials “accountable for their reckless spending and tax increases.”
The group states it is “community minded and care about free market approaches to its success” without any “special interests or undercover influence.”
Their website provides a portal to donate and a way to get involved but does not list any of its leadership or provide contact information, other than the address.
The Missouri Ethics Commission shows an active Truth In Politics group with the same address. The group last filed a report in 2021, showing spending on billboards and door hangers in support of candidate Brent Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for Springfield City Council.
The ethics commission shows no filings from the group for 2022 or related to the school board race.
There is a phone number with a Washington, D.C. area code listed on the group’s 2021 filing. The number is active but hangs up after a short recording with no way to leave a message seeking comment.
A year ago, a double-sided flyer was disseminated in support of Brown and two of the 2021 school board candidates — Maryam Mohammadkhani, who was elected and Byrne, who ran last year but was not elected — that said it was paid for by the Truth In Politics group.
At the time, Royce Reding, who has been part of U.S. Rep. Billy Long’s campaign, was listed as the treasurer.
Separately, anonymous text messages targeting two 2021 board candidates — Danielle Kincaid, who was elected, and Daniel Ogunyemi, who was not elected — were sent out alleging the two supported critical race theory and “drag queen values.” No “paid for by” information was included.
Taylor, who was not up for re-election last year, condemned the group’s smear tactics in a 2021 meeting. “We are better than this and Springfield and SPS is certainly far better than this. Shame on whoever sent that out.”
The News-Leader reached out to Brian McDonough, president and general manager of KY3, Inc. to learn more about the political ads purchased by Truth In Politics.
The media outlet, in keeping with public reporting rules, posts contracts and other details related to political advertising.
The reports show the Truth In Politics group paid nearly $30,000 for political ads to run in 35 spots, mostly during Ozarks Today and KY3 News, through election day.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to email@example.com.