Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL224.PRB - An Unusual Primary
This year's Missouri primary was one of the most unusual I've seen.
It involved more negative attacks funded by more big-buck donors with more inexperienced winners than I can remember.
I had thought it would be a pretty clean primary as a result of the suicide of one of the Republican candidates for governor, State Auditor Tom Schweich.
His suicide coming shortly after a broadcast advertisement making fun of his physical appearance led to calls to tone it down.
In his eulogy at Schweich's funeral, the founder of the modern Missouri GOP -- John Danforth -- called for more political civility.
In the first debate of the GOP gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder noted Schweich's absence and challenged his competitors to join him in rejecting personal attacks. None joined him that debate night.
Instead, some of the Republican primary campaigns went into the gutter.
The negative attacks got so bad that Danforth publicly criticized a fellow Republican, Kurt Schaefer, for charging his opponent had helped terrorists.
Chastising his colleagues for lack of civility in politics is nothing new for the ordained minister.
It reminded me of the Danforth I covered when, as state attorney general, he called on fellow Republicans to stop dwelling on attacks of the outgoing Democratic state administration and concentrate on a positive theme of what Republicans would do if in charge.
Many of this year's attack as were financed by huge, special-interest contributions. And in some cases, the actual sources of the money remained secret as Missourians cast their votes.
For example, the biggest contribution this year was $1.975 million to the successful GOP gubernatorial candidate, Eric Grietens. It may have set a Missouri record for the single largest contribution in the state's history.
But Missouri voters had no idea from where the money actually came. The contribution was made so late in the campaign that the newly-formed out-of-state organization, SEALs for Truth, did not disclose its funding sources before the primary.
Just before the primary, the Missouri Ethics Commission reported more than 100 contributions of $50,000 or greater were made this year to the primary candidates for Missouri's five state-elected offices on the ballot, totalling nearly $25 million.
That does not include the millions contributed last year nor the millions of dollars spent by independent organizations supporting or attacking candidates.
Like the ad mocking Schweich, while the targets of these independent organization attacks were clear, often unmentioned were the candidates the groups were trying to help by knocking down the opponents.
But big-dollar, special-interest funding of a campaign is not always successful.
That was demonstrated this year by Missouri's most prolific political contributor, Rex Sinquefield.
Sinquefield and his organizations contributed to five of the statewide primary campaigns this year.
Only one was successful, and he was unopposed.
Since the primary season began in 2014, Sinquefield dumped more than $11 million into those three unsuccessful campaigns -- nearly $8 million of that in the past seven months alone.
And the two upon whom Sinquefield spent the most money -- Catherine Hanaway for governor and Schaefer -- were defeated decisively by double-digit percentage points behind the winner.
The other Sinquefield-funded loser was Will Kraus, running for Secretary of State, and a former staffer for a Sinquefield organization, Bev Randles, who ran for the GOP nomination for lietenant governor.
Another surprise for me this year was the number of primary winners for state office who lacked any experience in the statehouse.
Of the ten Republican and Democratic primaries for the statewide Missouri offices on the ballot -- exactly one half were won by folks without any office experience in state government.
The last time Missouri elected a governor without statehouse experience was in 1976. Joe Teasdale's administration was plagued by a series of missteps and embarrassments.
I found him committed to his issues. But his ignorance of the details about state government was his undoing.
On the other side, the most effective attorney general I've covered -- Danforth -- and the most effective state auditor I've covered -- George Lehr -- came to the statehouse without prior state government experience.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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