JEFFERSON CITY — Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof has reaped an almost instant windfall from the repeal of Missouri's campaign contribution limits.
In the first few days since the limits were lifted, Hulshof reported receiving more than $1.2 million from contributors writing checks of between $5,000 and $600,000 a pop.
That should quickly help narrow the fundraising gap between Hulshof and his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jay Nixon.
Hulshof, Missouri's 9th District congressman, has said he spent essentially all of his campaign money while winning the Aug. 5 Republican gubernatorial primary against Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
Nixon, meanwhile, faced no serious primary opposition and built up a bank account of nearly $2.9 million heading into the primary election while operating under the constraints of contribution limits.
Since the limits were lifted last Thursday, Nixon has received about $400,000 in large checks - just one-third of Hulshof's haul, according to reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Almost half of Hulshof's money - $600,000 - came from the Republican Governors Association, of which Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is vice chairman and for which he has been a key fundraiser. Blunt announced in January that he would not seek a second term, which is what spurred Hulshof to enter the race.
Hulshof also received $100,000 from Howard Wood, of Bonne Terre, a former Charter Communications Inc. chairman who co-founded the cable and telecommunications firm Cequel III. Another $100,000 came to Hulshof from Jerry Hall, of Monett, the executive vice president of the banking software company Jack Henry & Associates Inc.
Nixon's big contributions included one check of $100,000 from Gray Ritter & Graham, a St. Louis law firm specializing in personal injury lawsuits, class-action claims and commercial litigation.
Nixon opposed the repeal of contribution limits but has said once they were lifted, he also would accept big donations. Hulshof said earlier this year that, if elected governor, he would sign the contribution-limit repeal - although he later said he would prefer to keep limits in place with greater reporting requirements.
The new law did away with donation limits of $1,350 per election to statewide candidates, $675 to Senate candidates and $325 to House candidates. But it also imposed a new requirement that political committees report to the Missouri Ethics Commission within 48 hours of receiving any checks of $5,000 or more.
Hulshof spokesman Scott Baker contended the surge in big checks following the repeal of contribution limits shows the enthusiasm behind Hulshof's campaign.
"We're just beginning to see the momentum bounce that we received from the primary win," Baker said.
Nixon spokesman Oren Shur said the Democratic candidate expected his money advantage over Hulshof to dwindle in the new era of unlimited donations.
"We know his special interest friends are going to send him some big checks, but we'll raise what we need," Shur said.
Missouri has had an on-again, off-again approach to contribution limits.
Voters first adopted limits in the 1994. After they were struck down in court, separate limits approved by the Legislature became law instead.
But lawmakers voted to repeal those contribution limits effective January 2007. Proponents of the repeal noted that the cost of elections had continued to rise and that big donors were effectively getting around the limits by funneling money in smaller amounts through various political committees.
The Missouri Supreme Court reinstated contribution limits in July 2007, striking down the repeal because of the way it had been passed by lawmakers. The Republican-led Legislature responded this May by once again passing a bill repealing the limits, effective Aug. 28. Blunt again signed the repeal into law.
The gubernatorial candidates were not the only ones to quickly start receiving large checks.
Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder received well more than $400,000 in checks of more than $5,000 each. Of that, $300,000 came from Humphreys family that founded Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products. The Humphreys family also contributed $150,000 to Republican attorney general candidate Mike Gibbons.
Sam Page, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, received more than $100,000 in big contributions. Page is an anesthesiologist, and much of that money came from various anesthesiologist groups.