Barbara Shelly

Rex Sinquefield’s new jobs program: More campaign spending

Rex Sinquefield
Rex Sinquefield Star file photo

Here’s an only-in-Missouri story that’s not about a rodeo clown.

It’s about the St. Louis meddling multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield. (Again.) And about an anti-abortion, anti-stem-cell research group called Missouri Roundtable for Life. And it’s about money, of course. Only-in-Missouri stories usually involve big sums of money.

Sinquefield, a retired financier and prolific contributor to campaigns and causes, has gone to court to block a proposed ballot initiative aimed at restoring caps on political donations. If it were to pass, donors could only give $2,600 per election to a candidate running for state office.

Sinquefield likes the cap-free way things are now because, hey, you never know when you’ll feel moved to send a couple million dollars somebody’s way.

Missouri Roundtable for Life, which has filed papers announcing its intent to gather signatures for a ballot initiative, says unlimited political contributions “are corrupting politicians and creating the appearance of corruption in Jefferson City.”

The roundtable’s president, Fred Sauer, is himself no slouch in the contributions game. He’s known to drop a few thousand here and there to candidates of his liking. And he donated $450,000 last year to his own unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for Missouri governor.

But Sauer’s donations pale in comparison to the $26.8 million Sinquefield has contributed to Missouri candidates and causes since 2008, according to an analysis by the St. Louis Beacon. When Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander cleared the way for Sauer’s group to start circulating petitions, Sinquefield called in the lawyers.

Missouri’s initiative petition process has created a cottage industry of lawyers and consultants who make big bucks trying to get issues on or off the ballot. Sinquefield’s crew, from the Blitz, Bardgett and Deutsch law firm, followed the usual playbook: Throw everything you can think of into your brief and hope a judge finds enough merit somewhere to at least delay the petition process.

Sinquefield’s lawyers invented some hilarious arguments. For one, they reasoned that the proposed constitutional amendment would inhibit the ability of children younger than 14 to participate in the political process, because their donations would be attributed to their parents. In my experience, it’s rare for the 13-and-under set to hand over their allowance to a candidate. But I suppose you never know.

Team Sinquefield’s most creative argument contends that limiting campaign contributions would be a blow to Missouri’s economy.

“Currently candidates spend millions of dollars on payroll for campaign workers, thousands of dollars in payroll and income taxes paid directly to the State of Missouri,” lawyer Marc Ellinger wrote in a memo to state Auditor Tom Schweich.

Ellinger cleverly uses Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s run for re-election last year as Exhibit A, noting that Nixon (who supports limits on donations) received more than $8 million in 2012. But if contributions were capped at $2,600, Nixon would only have received $2.2 million, Ellinger calculated. That’s not a move toward saner politics, he argues, it’s an economic stimulus lost.

For all candidates, Ellinger figured the roundtable’s initiative would have cost Missouri $36 million in the last election cycle, money that goes into the pockets of campaign foot soldiers and then into the state and local treasuries.

Based on Ellinger’s logic, we should all hope for even bigger campaign contributions, so that we can never turn on the TV or a radio or open the mailbox without being broadsided by a campaign ad. One needs to be well-connected to truly benefit from this new economy, but the rest of us should be grateful for the trickle down.

Only in Missouri would someone propose big campaign contributions as a stimulus package. Of course, only in Missouri is such wide-open spending tolerated in state politics. Which is why it would be nice to see the roundtable’s ballot initiative survive Sinquefield’s economic stimulus package for his lawyers.