Government & Politics

Jason Kander, Roy Blunt and allies exchange last-minute charges in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race

Millions of dollars have been poured into television ads urging votes for and against Sen. Roy Blunt (right), the Republican incumbent, and Democratic challenger Jason Kander.
Millions of dollars have been poured into television ads urging votes for and against Sen. Roy Blunt (right), the Republican incumbent, and Democratic challenger Jason Kander.

Spending in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race has now reached $47 million, most of it going for television ads urging votes for and against Sen. Roy Blunt, the Republican incumbent, and Democratic challenger Jason Kander.

Roughly two-thirds of the spending comes from outside groups trying to influence the election. Outside groups typically air the most negative ads in a race, and the Missouri race is no exception.

In general, ads by Blunt and his allies have criticized Kander on policy. Ads by Kander and his allies have criticized Blunt on a personal basis.

Here’s a closer look at the claims made in eight commercials aired in the Blunt-Kander race. Six come from outside groups, and two from the candidates’ own campaigns.

Against Blunt/ for Kander

▪ Sponsor: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (against Blunt)

Central claims: Blunt “voted to raise his own pay 12 times”; his net worth exceeds “$7 million.”

Votes on congressional pay raises are notoriously complicated. When Blunt began serving in the House in 1997, members received automatic cost-of-living pay increases. Virtually every year, members vote on proposals attached to other bills that would freeze the automatic pay raise.

Blunt voted for some measures in the House that effectively allowed pay increases to go into effect. Some of those votes could reasonably be construed as involving matters other than just congressional pay.

House members were paid $133,600 annually when Blunt took office, and $174,000 when he left the House. Pay for House and Senate members has been frozen at $174,000 during Blunt’s entire service in the Senate.

Blunt’s 2015 personal financial disclosure statement shows assets with a maximum value of almost $7.7 million and a minimum of roughly $2.1 million. Virtually all of those assets are owned by Blunt’s wife, Abigail, according to the disclosures, and much of the wealth he has added during his time in the Senate is based on his marriage.

▪ Sponsor: End Citizens United (against Blunt)

Central claims: Blunt was “caught” inserting a tobacco-related amendment into a Homeland Security bill, and lobbyists have funded trips to South Carolina.

In 2002, then-Rep. Blunt tried to insert language regarding tobacco sales into a bill creating the Homeland Security Department. The Blunt language would have made it harder to sell cigarettes on the internet.

According to news reports, House leaders didn’t know about the Blunt proposal and quickly pulled it from the measure. Blunt had received campaign donations from tobacco companies, and his future wife lobbied for Philip Morris, a tobacco company.

At the time, a Blunt spokesman said the congressman was trying to protect tobacco jobs in Missouri and keep terrorists from raising money through illegal tobacco sales.

All three of Blunt’s children are registered to lobby, as is his wife. There is evidence that Kander’s wife, Diana, has also been involved in talking with government officials on behalf of clients, an activity that is reasonably construed as lobbying.

The Kander campaign says Diana Kander never registered as a lobbyist, and worked as a lawyer on real estate transactions.

Blunt has established a political action committee called Rely on Your Beliefs. It’s a so-called leadership PAC, designed to raise money for distribution to other candidates. Most members of Congress in leadership positions have similar organizations.

In 2006, the Blunt PAC spent about $240,000 on fundraising events, including more than $130,000 at a golf resort in South Carolina.

▪ Sponsor: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (against Blunt)

Central claim: Blunt voted against increasing benefits for veterans.

In 2014, Blunt voted against lifting spending caps to approve a veterans bill proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The bill would have exceeded budget caps recently approved by Congress, and Republicans opposed it on that basis.

▪ Sponsor: Kander for Senate (for Kander)

Central claim: Kander supports “Second Amendment rights” but also background checks for some gun purchases.

This is perhaps the best-known political commercial of the election cycle. In the ad, Kander assembles a gun blindfolded, while daring Blunt to do the same.

But the viewers’ focus on the visuals of the ad may distract from what Kander actually says. “I also believe in background checks so terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these,” he says.

Federal law already requires background checks for gun purchases at gun stores. Kander is referring to something else — a ban on gun sales to anyone on the federal terror “watch list.”

That may or may not be good policy, but such a ban would not prevent all terrorists from getting their hands on such weapons. The world is awash in weaponry, easily obtained overseas.

Against Kander/ for Blunt

▪ Sponsor: National Republican Senatorial Committee (against Kander)

Central claims: Kander “voted in favor of Obamacare,” cut hospital funding in the state and raised taxes.

In April 2011, while a member of the Missouri House, Kander voted for a bill establishing a health insurance exchange in the state, as was then required under the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare.” The bill was supported by every member of the House from both political parties.

Kander could not have voted directly for the Affordable Care Act because he has never served in Congress. Missouri never established a state-based health care exchange.

In 2009, Kander voted for a bill that raised fees paid by some Medicaid providers in the state. It passed 146-8 in the House. He also voted for a bill that taxes ambulance services to provide a fund for Medicaid services. It passed the House 127-31. Both bills were signed into law.

▪ Sponsor: U.S. Chamber of Commerce (against Kander)

Central claims: Kander has taken more than $1 million in campaign contributions from trial lawyers; he voted against “farm families.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Kander has taken more than $1.3 million in campaign contributions from lawyers and law firms. That’s the most money by far from any sector supporting Kander.

Blunt has taken $496,000 from lawyers and law firms.

In 2011, Kander voted against a Missouri House bill that tried to limit the ability of neighboring property owners to bring lawsuits against large hog farms. It passed, and Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill.

▪ Sponsor: Senate Leadership Fund (against Kander)

Central claims: Kander supports a “national energy tax” and “amnesty” for immigrants.

The “energy” tax refers to a program called cap-and-trade, in which the government caps emissions from certain industries but allows those industries to buy pollution “credits” from other companies who operate below their caps. The system is designed to introduce a profit incentive to reduce harmful pollution.

Republicans introduced the idea but have since argued that it would cost consumers too much money. In 2010, the Missouri legislature considered a resolution urging resistance to a cap-and-trade law, and Kander voted against it.

Kander says he would have supported the so-called Gang of Eight immigration compromise. Opponents say the bill would have provided a path to citizenship for some immigrants illegally in the United States, which those opponents call amnesty.

▪ Sponsor: Roy Blunt for Senate (against Kander and for Blunt)

Central claims: The Clinton campaign has provided $500,000 to Kander; Kander wants to expand Obamacare.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign said last week it will send roughly $500,000 to Missouri to help get-out-the-vote efforts, primarily for Kander and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster.

The ad also reflects an argument made increasingly by Republican candidates — that the GOP will serve as an important check on Clinton if she’s elected president.

Kander has said he wants to make changes to the Affordable Care Act but does not support repeal. Blunt wants to repeal the law in its entirety, then re-enact some of its more popular provisions.

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc

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