The days of unlimited campaign contributions in Missouri could be coming to an end this November.
Yet looming limits aren’t doing much to slow down Missouri’s mega donors.
A constitutional amendment will appear on the November ballot re-establishing campaign contribution limits that were repealed by the Missouri General Assembly in 2008.
In the meantime, six- and seven-figure donations continue to pour into Missouri political campaigns at a faster clip than ever before.
There have been 10 contributions in the last two months of more than $1 million, going to both individual candidates and ballot measures. Since the Aug. 2 primary, $27 million in donations larger than $5,000 have been reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission. That figure is more than double the total of large contributions during the same time period in 2014 and $10 million more than in 2012.
Joplin businessman David Humphreys is the most prolific donor, personally doling out $3.2 million to various candidates and committees since Aug. 2. His sister, Sarah Atkins, donated another $1 million last week to a political action committee Humphreys founded to push for tougher regulations on labor unions.
The most expensive race this year appears to be the campaign to replace Gov. Jay Nixon, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits.
The Democratic nominee, Chris Koster, entered September with a big cash advantage, with more than $9.4 million in the bank compared with $3.2 million for Republican Eric Greitens.
Since Aug. 2, Greitens has accepted $7 million in large donations. Most of that total comes from the Republican Governors Association, which cut him checks for $2.5 million, $1 million and $750,000.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association is funded through donations from companies like Koch Industries, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Over the last two months, Koster received nearly $4 million in large donations, including a $1 million donation from the Democratic Governors Association, which is funded by companies like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Pfizer and Wal-Mart.
Some of the biggest donors since the primary have been focused on a handful of measures that will appear on the November ballot. Those include:
▪ $1.7 million from the parent company of RJ Reynolds tobacco to fund a ballot measure that would raise the tax on cigarettes to fund early childhood education. All told the company has given more than $2.6 million to the campaign since Aug. 2.
▪ Two smaller tobacco companies, Xcaliber International and Cheyenne International, combined to give nearly $1.2 million in September to a rival ballot measure that would raise the tax on cigarettes to fund road and bridge repair.
▪ The Missouri Association of Realtors gave $1 million to a ballot measure prohibiting government from imposing sales taxes on services.
The most notable name missing from the list of big donors since the primary is also the granddaddy of all Missouri mega donors — Rex Sinquefield.
Sinquefield, a retired investor from St. Louis, has given more than $45 million to various candidates and campaigns in Missouri since 2008. That total far outpaces any other individual or group.
He gave $11 million to a slate of Republican candidates running for statewide office during the primary. But in the end, only one of his preferred candidates survived the primary.
Since then, he’s holstered his sizable checkbook.
Travis Brown, Sinquefield’s spokesman and closest adviser, said Sinquefield is evaluating campaigns in Missouri and beyond, but “we don’t have any new donations or contributions to report at this time.”
Sinquefield’s largesse was a main motivator behind the efforts by Fred Sauer to put an end to unlimited campaign contributions. The veteran anti-abortion and anti-stem cell activist is bankrolling the proposed constitutional amendment reinstating contribution limits in Missouri.
His proposal, which will be on the November ballot, would amend the state’s constitution to cap contributions to state candidates at $2,600. It also seeks to ban political committees from obscuring the source of their money, a tactic that’s become more prevalent in recent years.
Since Aug. 2, Sauer has donated $210,000 to the effort. He’s also won the support of prominent Democrats, such as Koster and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
If Sauer gets his way, the days of six- and seven-figure donations could be numbered.
“Political candidates in Missouri can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars, from single donors,” Sauer said. “This has created an unfortunate situation where politicians turn to wealthy elites, rather than the people of Missouri, for financial and political support.”