Corporations, special interest groups and political activists poured more than $3.4 million into Missouri campaign committees on Wednesday, just hours before tough new limits on campaign donations took effect.
The donations ranged from $5,001 to $500,000. They were perfectly legal Wednesday and would have been illegal Thursday.
Roughly two-thirds of the last-minute donations came from two people: Joplin businessman David Humphreys and his sister, Sarah Atkins. The two gave incoming Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s campaign committee $1 million, and $1 million went to Gov.-elect Eric Greitens.
Both are Republicans, and Humphreys is a longtime donor to GOP campaigns.
But Greitens, who takes the oath of office next year, also took 11th-hour unlimited donations from other groups, according to filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission. His committee picked up checks worth more than $500,000 from political action groups including the Missouri Soybean Association, Archer Daniels Midland and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. Checks ranged from $10,000 to $30,000 or more.
The donations marked the end of a lucrative week for the Greitens campaign committee. The utility group Ameren gave the governor-elect’s campaign $100,000 on Monday, the same day Herzog Railroad Services of St. Joseph wrote a check for $300,000.
Those contributions are now prohibited by Missouri’s constitution. Beginning Thursday, direct giving to candidate committees is limited to $2,600. In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment setting the limit.
The amendment also bans corporations and labor unions from donating directly to candidates. Instead, they must form political action committees that can accept contributions or dues from their members.
Several phone calls and emails to the Greitens transition office and campaign officials, asking about the contributions, were not answered Thursday.
Democrats said the last-minute donations to Greitens were meant to curry favor with the incoming governor. “It gets him off to a bad start,” said Steve Glorioso, a longtime Democratic consultant in Kansas City. “For a guy who ran as an outsider, he has just become the consummate insider.”
But Republicans said the last-minute donation rush wouldn’t deter their party, or the governor-elect, from pursuing ethics reform in 2017.
“They are mindful of the appearance of things,” said James Harris, a Jefferson City-based consultant. “This governor is going to work on ethics reform, and raise the bar.”
The donations came the same day opponents of the new restrictions sued in federal court, arguing that the limits violate free speech rights. Those opponents tried to keep the measure off the ballot but failed.
The court may be asked to temporarily block implementation of the limits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.