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Conservative activist group rolls into Jeff City with campaign financing controversy in tow

Monday, September 13, 2010 | 9:18 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A conservative group on a tour through Missouri stopped by the state capitol Monday morning, bearing a message of fiscal austerity. At the same time, one of its out-of-state backers is being sued for campaign finance violations.

The Spending Revolt tour's website lists Americans for Prosperity as one of five supporting organizations.

Last month, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued the group's parent organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, arguing it was engaged in "political campaigns on behalf of, and in opposition to, candidates for public office." Such actions would violate the foundation's tax-exempt status, which hinges upon its avoiding directly speaking in favor of, or against, particular candidates.

One of those political campaigns was Missouri's 4th Congressional District race, where Rep. Ike Skelton, a Democrat, is facing off against Republican Vicky Hartzler.

Jim Gwinner, a spokesman for the Spending Revolt tour, opened the late morning press conference with blunt words for the federal government.

"It's time to cut spending and live within their means," Gwinner said.

Americans for Prosperity is a major funder of conservative causes around the country. The group's founder, entrepreneur David H. Koch, and his wife, Julia, have donated nearly $2 million to Republican candidates and committees since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The president of Americans for Prosperity, Tim Phillips, has previously worked on Republican legislative campaigns.

Calls to the group's Missouri chapter went unanswered and a voicemail left at its Washington, D.C., headquarters was not returned.

Americans for Prosperity is registered under the IRS code as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, meaning it does not have to disclose its donors.

"It's a political landscape that can be very confusing," said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, located in Washington, D.C.

There was no mention of any candidate or the endorsement of any campaign at the morning press conference.

"We are not promoting candidates," said Bev Ehlen, the Missouri State Director for Concerned Women for America. "We are talking about the issues."

Concerned Women for America, which is another group supporting the Spending Revolt tour, is an organization dedicated to promoting what their website refers to as "Biblical principles," such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Bipartisan anger was a message Jim Lambirth, a plumber from Jefferson City, had on his mind.

"They've all done a terrible job," Lambirth said.

When asked whether that included Republicans as well as Democrats, Lambirth said it did.

"They have let me down as well," he said, pointing to the high levels of federal spending under President Bush.

One of those in attendance Monday was Mitch Hubbard, who ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Robin Carnahan for secretary of state two years ago.

Hubbard brought his three daughters — ages 10, 9 and 5 — to the event.

"This is about their future," Hubbard said. "They need to understand. This is a civics lesson for them."

Levinthal believes it can be a lesson for other voters as well.

"Voters are going to have to be very vigilant about who these campaigns are sponsored by," Levinthal said. "There may be more going on than meets the eye."


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