Small number of donors create big influence in Missouri

Monday, March 3, 2014 | 6:18 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — A small handful of donors account for the bulk of money raised for statewide candidates and ballot measures in Missouri, according to a newspaper analysis on Monday.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch analyzed money raised by Missouri campaign committees from 2011 through 2013. The analysis found that more than 150,000 donations were made. But more than half the money raised — about $67 million — came from donations of $5,000 or more, even though they accounted for just 2.8 percent of all donations.

Donations of $10,000 or more accounted for $53 million. That means 1.1 percent of contributions accounted for 42 percent of money raised.

Missouri State University professor George Connor said the absence of contribution limits in Missouri exacerbates the reliance on big donors. Missouri is one of four states with no contribution cap, and it is the only state allowing unlimited donations and unlimited gifts from lobbyists to public officials.

"The reality is, candidates need to raise money from people with deep pockets, and there's just not that many of them," Connor said.

The Post-Dispatch analysis did not include the contributions to political parties and political action committees not directly affiliated with candidates or ballot measures.

Gov. Jay Nixon has pushed for reinstating contribution limits, which were repealed by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2008. Nixon, a Democrat, has raised roughly $10 million in donations of at least $5,000 since 2011, more than anyone else.

Several ethics reform bills have been filed in the current session of the legislature.

Those opposing limits say that allowing unlimited donations leads to greater transparency because smaller contributions don't have to be funneled through committees.

The Post-Dispatch found that most large campaign contributions don't come from individuals, at least not directly. Of the 25 donors who gave the most donations of $5,000 or more, only four were individuals.

St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield gave more than $2 million to candidate and ballot measure committees from 2011 to 2013. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate David Spence spent $2 million on his own 2012 campaign. Tamko chief executive officer David Humphreys of Joplin and Clayton businessman Sam Fox were also among the big donors.

Other large donors included PACs, nonprofits, businesses and industry groups, law firms and a union.

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