Government & Politics

Republican donor David Humphreys spending big to oust Missouri Republicans

David Humphreys is donating money to campaigns of people running against Missouri Republicans who oppose “right to work” laws.
David Humphreys is donating money to campaigns of people running against Missouri Republicans who oppose “right to work” laws.

To purge his party of pro-union Republicans, David Humphreys is willing to spend a small fortune.

He and his family have poured $2.75 million into a political action committee that for months has been targeting Republicans who oppose a “right to work” law.

His money has found its way into the campaign coffers of a handful of Republicans who are challenging incumbent state lawmakers in GOP primaries, setting up intraparty battles across the state.

Even a pair of Democrats have benefited from Humphreys’ largesse — one who helped Republicans pass new regulations on public unions in the Missouri House, and another running against a Republican who helped sink those regulations in the Missouri Senate.

His end game is simple: He hopes to get rid of Republicans who for years have helped derail anti-union legislation in the Missouri General Assembly.

But in doing so, he potentially opens the door for Democrats to capture the seats of Republicans weakened by tough primary fights.

Humphreys rarely grants interviews, instead relying on written statements. In an email to The Star, he said his donations were an attempt to “help preserve and advance a free society so that all our children can enjoy the same kinds of freedom and opportunities that we have had.

“And being blessed with significant resources, “ Humphreys said, “I have a personal sense of duty to play some part in that endeavor both for my own children and our broader community.”

Humphreys is the president and CEO of Tamko Building Products Inc., a Joplin-based company specializing in manufacturing residential and commercial roofing products, waterproofing products, composite decking and railing systems, and cements and coatings.

His grandfather founded the company in 1944, and Humphreys took the reins upon the death of his father in 1993.

Along with his mother, Ethelmae Humphreys, and sister, Sarah Humphreys Atkins, the Humphreys family has long been among the most prolific donors in Missouri politics.

Since 2008, the year the Republican-dominated General Assembly repealed voter-imposed campaign contribution limits, the Humphreys family has donated more than $9.4 million to various candidates and committees in Missouri.

That total trails only Rex Sinquefield, the retired investor from St. Louis who has doled out $45 million during that same time period.

While the scale of his donations isn’t on par with Sinquefield’s, Humphreys has picked up the pace considerably in the wake of last fall’s defeat of so-called right to work legislation.

After decades of trying, legislative Republicans last year were finally able to pass a right to work bill that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to be required to become a union member or to pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the measure.

The Missouri House voted 96-63 to override Nixon’s veto, 13 votes shy of the two-thirds majority required for an override.

Humphreys responded by founding the Committee for Accountable Government in Missouri, a political action committee that began paying for TV ads in the districts of Republicans who voted against the override.

“Elections have consequences, and we will do what we can to hold these representatives accountable,” a spokesman for the committee said in a statement announcing the launch of the TV ad campaigns earlier this year.

Humphreys also spent nearly $300,000 on TV and radio ads across the state explaining how union members could vote out the unions that represent them.

But nowhere will Humphreys’ money be felt more than in Republican primaries for seats in the Missouri legislature.

Republican Reps. Kevin Corlew of Kansas City, Bill Kidd of Independence and Nick King of Liberty represent swing districts that promise to be highly competitive in the fall. But first they have to survive a primary challenge from Republicans bankrolled by the Humphreys family.

Sean Pouche, who is challenging Corlew, received $25,000 from Humphreys and his sister, as did Christopher Dale, who is challenging Kidd.

Mary Hill, who is running against King, got $50,000.

Rep. Sheila Solon, a Blue Springs Republican, is facing a primary challenge from Dan Stacy, who has gotten $35,000 from Humphreys.

Rep. Chrissy Sommer, a St. Charles County Republican, is being challenged by Mary West, who received $25,000 from Humphreys.

Republican Bill Eigel, a candidate for a St. Charles County state Senate seat, got $100,000 from Humphreys. Eigel is running against Anne Zerr, who has a long record of opposition to right to work.

In the GOP primary for a state Senate seat in St. Louis County, state Rep. Andrew Koenig has gotten $100,000 from Humphreys. He’s running against former Republican state Rep. Rick Stream.

The Humphreys family even broke from its long tradition of only supporting Republicans to drop $50,000 into the campaign of Democratic Rep. Courtney Curtis of St. Louis County.

Curtis joined with Republicans to support tougher regulations on public employee unions.

Just like right to work, that bill was vetoed by Nixon. But with Curtis’ help, the veto was overridden by the House.

When it was time for the Senate to override Nixon’s veto, however, supporters’ luck ran out.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, joined with Democrats to sustain the veto and kill the bill.

Silvey doesn’t have an opponent in the Republican primary, so Humphreys donated $25,000 to J. Ranen Bechthold, a Democrat from Gladstone running a long-shot campaign against Silvey this fall.

Silvey, who could not be reached for comment, responded to the donation via Twitter.

“If you can't buy one, might as well buy the other,” he said. “Politics as usual.”

Missouri’s labor unions aren’t taking Humphreys’ donations lightly.

In the months since the right to work vote, unions have poured contributions into the campaigns of Republicans who helped them fend off the bill.

In the last week, the political action committee of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council gave $50,000 to Silvey and $15,000 apiece to Kidd and Solon. Last year, they gave $5,000 apiece to Corlew, King and Sommer.

Other unions have also chipped in to each of the Republicans facing a Humphreys-financed challenger.

“At a time when working people are struggling to earn wages to raise a family, millionaire corporate CEOs like David Humphreys are trying to buy elections to make sure that the rules are manipulated to benefit their own selfish interests,” said Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “Middle-class Missourians need to speak up together against big corporate donors and do what is right for working families.”

In response to the Humphreys family’s political activism, unions have also called for a boycott of his company.

“We’re boycotting Tamko Building Products to show Humphreys that we don’t support businesses whose CEOs attack the middle class by reducing wages and benefits,” said Dave Wilson of the Committee to Protect Missouri Families, a group funded by several unions.

State Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican running for Missouri secretary of state, criticized labor’s boycott of Tamko, despite the fact that Humphreys has donated to his Republican rival for the nomination, Jay Ashcroft.

“It is preposterous that this radical group claims to protect Missouri families, yet proposes a boycott of one of Missouri’s large employers,” Kraus said. “What do they think will happen to the families of the people employed by Tamko?”

For his part, the attention from labor unions doesn’t seem to faze Humphreys.

In an email to The Star, he trotted out a statement he’s leaned on for years: That his contributions support “individual liberty and personal responsibility, lower taxes and less restrictive government regulation of people and commerce.”

“These values,” he said, “are fundamental to the survival of free enterprise and personal liberty.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock