COLUMBIA — To say that the race for Missouri’s 24th House District is heating up would be an understatement. The contest pitting incumbent Republican state Rep. Ed Robb against former Democratic state representative Chris Kelly is already the most expensive race in the county, and it’s expected to be the most expensive state representative race in Missouri history.
Although campaign advertisements for Robb and Kelly depict both men as experienced candidates dedicated to fully funding public education, the campaigns’ donor lists reveal a stark contrast in the types of support they’re garnering.
According to campaign finance reports filed in early September, Kelly, by the end of August, had raised more than $130,000 since announcing his candidacy last September. Compared to Robb, he is raising more money from more individuals in Columbia and throughout Boone County. Kelly has garnered more than 900 individual contributions, ranging from $10 to $325. Most of those contributions are coming from attorneys, educators, homemakers, union members, health professionals and retirees living and voting in the county.
Robb has reportedly raised nearly $89,000 but has had less success in drawing support from small-amount donors in the district. Robb’s campaign has received 107 gifts from individual donors in Boone County, mostly from business owners or executives who donated the maximum of $325.
Kelly’s campaign thinks the comparison indicates he is the candidate more in touch with the values of Boone County voters.
“People are giving again and again to Chris,” said Jeff Chin, a coordinator of Kelly’s bid for the legislature. “The people who are giving are the ones who are really interested on where the candidate stands. … We’ve been getting more.”
Kelly credits his campaign’s financial support to his successes in advocating for Columbia. Before serving as a circuit judge and as chairman of the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, Kelly served six terms as a state representative from Boone County.
Kelly thinks his work in building the Katy Trail, improving workers’ health and safety standards and cooperating with former Gov. John Ashcroft on legislating state health-care reforms resonates with longtime voters.
“People who have been here a long time know of my efficiency, they know I can work with the other party,” Kelly said. “They know I’m going to look for ways to innovate change, and I’ll find” those ways.
Dan Viets is one of many area attorneys who gave to Kelly’s campaign, but he said he doesn’t think Kelly is working for the interests of lawyers.
“I’ve known (Kelly) for about 35 years,” Viets said. “I care very deeply about preserving our rights under the Constitution, and he knows how to see to it that the legislature will respect those rights.”
Elaine Buddemeyer gave $50 to Kelly in July because she remembers his work in the Missouri legislature.
“I think he’s always done a good job in everything he has done,” she said. Buddemeyer had never donated to a campaign before and, though she is retired, she still feels her gift to Kelly was the right thing to do.
“I really feel like he’s the best candidate for the job.”
Robb isn’t concerned about his rival’s success in getting money from voters. He feels his record of support for public education — including his efforts to fix the K-12 education funding formula and to bring the first funding increase to MU since 2003 — stands on its own.
“We’re not affected by his campaign or its success,” Robb said. “We have our own (fundraising) goals and objectives, we have our own timelines.”
Business owner Tom Atkins is one of Robb’s individual donors. He gave $325 to Robb because he thinks Robb will best protect the interests of Columbia businesses.
“He’s a good representative for the university, and he’s a very intelligent fellow,” Atkins said. Atkins, like Robb, wants to see greater tort reform by the Missouri legislature.
“It’s important. There have just been too many lawsuits that hurt business owners.”
Instead of relying on members of the community for financial support, Robb’s campaign finds support from business- and issue-oriented political action committees (PACs) from Columbia, Jefferson City and beyond.
The Peabody Investments Corp., a coal energy PAC based in St. Louis, contributed $325 to Robb, as did the Missouri Soybean Association PAC in Jefferson City and Penn National Gaming in Wyomissing, Pa..
Robb accepts the support of special interests because he knows there are many such interests actively supporting his opponent.
“I can’t put myself into the position where the House Democratic Caucus is willing to spend $200,000 to elect Chris Kelly,” Robb said. “I not only have to worry about what Chris raises, but what other groups like unions will raise. You can’t put yourself in a precarious position.”
Both candidates have taken contributions from various health-care organizations and realty groups such as the Realtors PAC of Columbia, but organized labor groups and individual union members are donating solely to Kelly.
At the start of his campaign, Kelly said, he met personally with Robb with the intention of limiting campaign spending. Robb denies the conversation ever occurred. Robb voted for the repeal of state contribution limits back in May and doesn’t think any type of spending-cap was feasible.
“We can’t control what other groups that are interested in the election are willing to spend,” Robb said.
Kelly says he abhors the amount of money going into this record-breaking campaign. He said that if he wins, he would pursue the reinstatement of contribution limits.
No limits "are an invitation to manipulation of special interests,” Kelly said. “But that’s the game we’re in. It may be inappropriate, but I’m not going to bring a knife to a gun fight.”