Government & Politics

Worried Republicans spending big to hold KC-area Senate seat

Candidates for eastern Jackson County’s 8th District seat in the Missouri Senate: (from left) Republican Mike Cierpiot, independent Jacob Turk and Democrat Hillary Shields.
Candidates for eastern Jackson County’s 8th District seat in the Missouri Senate: (from left) Republican Mike Cierpiot, independent Jacob Turk and Democrat Hillary Shields.

A political action committee connected to prominent Missouri Republicans is bankrolling television ads attacking the Democrat running to fill a vacant Jackson County seat in the state Senate.

The group, which is called Missouri Alliance For Freedom-Grace River PAC, is paying for ads on KCTV, KMBC and KSHB. How much it is spending is still not clear.

The ads are attacking Democrat Hillary Shields, a 33-year-old paralegal and co-founder of the grassroots group Indivisible Kansas City. She is running to fill the state senate seat in eastern Jackson County left vacant when Republican Sen. Will Kraus resigned to take a job on the state tax commission.

The flood of money into the campaign — which is coming from a tangled web of mega donors, PACs and secretive nonprofits — is yet another sign that Republicans are in a panic that they could lose a senate seat they’ve held an iron grip on for nearly 40 years.

Jackson County Republican leaders chose Mike Cierpiot to be the party’s nominee in August. Ciepiot, 64, is currently majority leader of the Missouri House. He was expected to cruise to victory on Nov. 7.

But Jacob Turk, 61, felt he didn’t get a fair chance at the nomination. So he entered the race as an independent.

Turk has run six times as a Republican for Congress, and his candidacy sparked widespread fear among Republicans that he and Cierpiot would split GOP votes and hand the race the Shields. All three candidates live in Lee’s Summit.

To offset Turk’s candidacy, Republicans have opened up their wallets.

Cierpiot reported earlier this month that he had $231,000 of cash on hand, with his biggest donations coming from a pair of GOP megadonors: $50,000 from Joplin businessman David Humphreys and $10,000 from a political action committee bankrolled by St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield.

Records show Cierpiot plans to spend more than $130,000 on TV ads in the district.

Joining him in the spending spree is the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the state Senate. Exactly how much the group is spending on the race is still unclear, but it’s estimated to be in the six figures.

Now Missouri Alliance for Freedom has jumped into the campaign, running an ad alleging Shields never called for the removal of a St. Louis County legislator who said earlier this year that she hoped President Donald Trump was assassinated.

Shields said at the time that the assassination comment was inappropriate and that the lawmaker in question should resign.

“I’m saddened, but not surprised, by the latest turn in this campaign,” Shields said in a statement to The Star. “Even in our polarized political environment I didn’t think I would see outright lies and falsehoods used to smear me.”

Based in Kansas City, Missouri Alliance for Freedom is run by a former executive director of the Missouri GOP and an attorney tied to numerous campaign committees used over the years by Republican political consultant Jeff Roe. It’s represented by the law firm of Missouri GOP Chairman Todd Graves. St. Joseph businessman Stan Herzog is one of its primary donors.

On Friday, it got a $102,000 check from another GOP-aligned committee called Liberty Alliance.

And where did Liberty Alliance’s money come from?

Humphreys and Herzog each cut $100,000 checks to the group earlier this year. But its biggest donor is a nonprofit called American Democracy Alliance, which gave $350,000 in August.

Because it’s a nonprofit, American Democracy Alliance is not required to disclose its donors.

While Republicans are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the district, Shields reported earlier this month that she had only $19,000 cash on hand.

Turk reported raising only $125.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock