Missouri, the show-me-the-money state
The Kansas City Star
Kansas political watchers are agog over the big bucks being spent on primary races that will determine what kind of Republicans — moderates or conservatives — take seats in the state Senate next year.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has ponied up more than $250,000 to oust moderates, with more than half coming from Koch Industries of Wichita!
The moderate Republican Senate president has joined with labor to raise $200,000 for a political action committee dedicated to defeating conservatives!
Candidates Joe Beveridge (moderate) and Greg Smith (conservative), campaigning for a Senate seat in Johnson County, have raised about $40,000 apiece!
Those are indeed big amounts, reflective of the high stakes in Tuesday’s primary.
But across the state line in Missouri, the Kansas numbers qualify as chump change.
Brad Lager, who is running in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, reeled in $385,000 from a single donor — St. Louis multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield. Lager and his Republican opponent, incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, have both spent more than $1.2 million for a shot at a job that pays $86,000 a year.
Incumbent Democratic governor Jay Nixon receives five-figure donations almost weekly and is sitting atop a campaign fund of more than $7 million.
Republican legislator Mike McGhee, from Odessa, is the beneficiary of nearly $170,000 from the Missouri Club for Growth, a group funded by Sinquefield. McGhee’s opponent in a Senate primary, incumbent Sen. David Pearce of Warrensburg, apparently has been insufficiently loyal to Club for Growth causes.
People and groups spend an obscene amount of money trying to influence Missouri politicians. Because they can.
In Kansas, political donations are limited to $1,000 for Senate races and $500 for House and local races. Missouri used to have even tighter caps.
But legislators tossed them out in 2008. Missouri government, a grubby enterprise even with the limits, has been beholden to high rollers ever since.
Politicians dispute that, of course. Lager insists his six-figure campaign donations from Sinquefield and three other wealthy families would have no bearing on how he would conduct himself in office. Certainly not. They’re lavishing big bucks on him because he’s such a great guy.
Nonsense. Sinquefield is investing in a rising politician to gain a voice for his radical tax and education ideas. Other of Lager’s big-time donors want to influence how the state’s judges are selected.
Nixon routinely receives contributions from $10,000 to $25,000 from trial lawyers and their firms. So when the governor correctly vetoed bills that would make it harder to sue for workplace discrimination and injuries from occupational diseases, opponents framed his actions as payoffs to those interests. And with sums that big, it’s hard to claim they weren’t a factor.
Kansas and Missouri are alike in some ways. Political action committees can spend any amount to support or oppose a candidate. In both states, groups find ways to hide the source of their money.
This seems to happen more frequently in Missouri.
Recently, a dormant political action committee called Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates woke up with a jolt of $275,000 in secret money, and is working to influence a few state Senate primaries. As is typical, the PAC’s donor is a nonprofit corporation, in this case Missourians for Low Energy Costs.
The donor behind the donor is believed to be Noranda Aluminum, a southeast Missouri smelter that is one of the state’s largest electricity consumer. But there’s no way to know for sure unless or until the nonprofit discloses its donors on IRS forms — long after the votes have been cast.
In Kansas, such sneaky tactics would be big news. In Missouri, they’re politics as usual. And they help to explain why Missouri government doesn’t work for ordinary people.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to email@example.com.