COLUMBIA - Stephen Webber, one of two candidates in the 23rd Missouri House District's Democratic Primary, has found support almost everywhere he's looked, including outside of Missouri. A close look at Webber's campaign finance reports reveals he has received more than a quarter of his $78,045 in campaign contributions from outside the state.
"Any small state race is going to be about personal connections," Webber said. "A lot of people, they might have an out-of-state address, but they grew up in Columbia or went to school with me in Columbia."
Webber, who worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and served two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq, said many of the contributions he's received from non-Columbians are friends and acquaintances he's made in Washington, D.C., or in the military.
"I think it's good that I've had a lot of experience outside Columbia," he said. "It's a positive thing that shows people I've worked with believe in me."
Because no Republican has filed in the 23rd District, Tuesday's primary will determine who eventually fills the open seat sought by Webber and his opponent, Cande Iveson. Iveson, who raised 12 percent of her $28,725 in contributions from outside the state, said she wonders why Webber has gotten so much support from outside Missouri.
"I guess you get your money where you can get it," Iveson said. "For me, what it brings into question is, why are these people so interested in these local Missouri races?"
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the 2006 contribution average for Missouri House races was $34,679, and Webber has more than doubled the average. For open Missouri House seats in 2006, only 6 percent of money raised by candidates came from outside the state they were running in.
Webber has raised 27 percent of his money from outside the state.
MU political science professor Peverill Squire said contributions from outside the state for local legislative races are most prevalent if the candidates are focused on a particular issue, such as abortion, or if the seat has the potential to swing control of the legislature from one party to the other.
Webber and Iveson, however, have very similar stances on issues, and there is only a slim chance that the Missouri House could change from Republican to Democratic hands this election.
"It's unusual that out-of-state interests would want to involve themselves in a state legislative race," Squire said. Squire said out-of-state dollars should raise concerns only if it comprises the vast majority of a campaign's money; Webber received most of his donations from in-state committees.
"Even if one-third of your contributions are from out of state, which is unusual, it probably won't have much effect on how someone behaves in office," Squire said.
Steve Wyse, who contributed to Webber's campaign, said the amount of contributions he's received from outside Columbia is impressive.
"He's got a bright future ahead of him," Wyse said. "I think people who can judge political talent can see that in him."