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In Missouri, John Brunner Attacks GOP Opponent’s Wealth

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
Missouri Senatorial candidate John Brunner is trying to make personal finances a key focus of the GOP primary. But that plan of attack may come back to haunt the wealthy businessman.

Brunner derives the majority of his wealth, at least $9 million, from his former company Vi-Jon, a cosmetics and health care manufacturer. He also holds a minimum of about $5 million in gold and silver. But beyond that, a few unusual investments have caught the attention of his opponents.

He recently dissolved an account worth $1 million to $5 million with Edelweiss Holdings, a Bermuda-based investment company that focuses “on the preservation of wealth against the erosion of the purchasing power of money,” according to its website. His wife retains a similar account with the firm valued at more than $1 million.

A spokesman for Brunner said the candidate pays all U.S. taxes and said the account provided him “no tax advantage.” Still, offshore accounts in countries such as Bermuda with limited disclosure requirements and few, if any, national taxes, raise red flags among tax professionals.

“If people have $5 million and they are sprinkling it around the subtropical tax havens, one wonders why,” said Frances Hill, a professor specializing in tax and election law at the University of Miami Law School. “Why does a candidate for Congress want his or her money not in the U.S.?”

Jeffery Trinca, a tax attorney at Van Scoyoc Associates who served as chief of staff for the Senate committee charged with restructuring the IRS in the 1990s, said that many investors are drawn to these kind of accounts to avoid IRS reporting requirements.

Brunner also holds a “non interest bearing” checking account in the Cayman Islands, where his family owns a condominium.

The account was not reported on his personal financial disclosure form because it holds less than $5,000, according to his campaign.

“It isn’t necessarily nefarious, but it raises questions,” Trinca said. “Generally, a lot of travel to the Caymans and an account there as well tends to raise eyebrows at the IRS and the Treasury.”

Still, the Brunner campaign continues to hammer this message, pointing to a statement made by Akin’s spokesman last year that the Congressman stands to gain financially from the sale of the land near the highway.

“Missouri voters should be extremely troubled that Congressman Akin won’t accept responsibility for his own assets,” said Todd Abrajano, a spokesman for the Brunner campaign.

The spat has not been lost on the Democrats.

In a pre-emptive move, the Missouri Democratic Party filed a complaint last fall with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Brunner delayed his official candidacy to avoid disclosing his campaigns expenditures. Behind the scenes, the campaign is raising questions about Brunner’s assets and management of his company.

McCaskill, one of the wealthiest Members of Congress, is no stranger to financial scrutiny.

Republicans skewered her last year for failing to pay $287,000 in property taxes in 2011 on her own private aircraft.

She has since sold the “damn” plane.

Correction: July 31, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which the Democratic Party of Missouri filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

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