The race for the 24th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives is shaping up to be just what the candidates predicted: the most expensive state representative contest in state history.
In campaign finance reports filed on Tuesday, Republican incumbent Ed Robb reported raising $109,000 through Sept. 30. His opponent, Democrat Jim Ritter, reported raising $110,000 through Tuesday. Robb has spent $72,000 and Ritter $75,000, according to the reports. The quarterly reports are supposed to reflect fundraising only through Sept. 30.
Ritter conceded that the disparity in reporting dates reflects a mistake by his campaign.
The Missouri Ethics Commission does not consider the error an ethics violation, but Ritter may have to amend his report. Had Ritter reported contributions only through Sept. 30, it appears his total would have been about $13,000 less.
In addition to what Robb has raised on his own, the House Republican Committee reported spending $64,000 on his behalf. Much of that money has paid for negative ads that attack Ritter’s record as superintendent of Columbia Public Schools.
Although the House Democrat Committee has spent no money on the contest, Ritter expects it will as the election draws closer. Ritter said he lacks absolute authority over what the committee’s ads might say but he has asked that it refrain from negative messages.
Overall, the House Republican Committee has collected far more than the House Democrats: $2.6 million versus $910,000.
“I’m happy with the amount we’ve raised,” Ritter said, “but we are still being outspent substantially, not because his campaign is out-raising us, but because the state Republicans are putting so much into his campaign. We recognized from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to compete dollar for dollar, but we’ll just continue to raise as much as we can.”
Ritter said 70 percent of his donors have contributed small amounts of less than $100.
Robb said his fundraising goal is $150,000, which would be three times the amount he raised for his first election in 2004.
The expense of this campaign and others has resurrected talk of capping the amount a candidate can spend on an election. Although the state limits the amount an individual can contribute, it has ruled against campaign spending caps. Robb opposes caps.
“There’s a little thing called the First Amendment,” Robb said, arguing that people have a right to financially support their political or religious beliefs and artificial caps don’t make sense.
Ritter, however, said he would support campaign spending caps because he thinks spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to win an election is ludicrous. If both candidates were allowed to spend only $50,000 each, they would be forced to dedicate their resources to positive messages about what they would do in office.
“I don’t want to reach the point where you can buy the election and lose track of the main issues,” he said.
Candidates in other Boone County representative races haven’t raised as much money as Robb and Ritter, but most of their campaigns aren’t cheap either.
In the 21st District race, both Republican incumbent Steve Hobbs and his Democratic opponent Skip Elkin have raised about $70,000. Hobbs, however, has spent only $25,000, while Elkin has spent $51,000.
In the 9th District race, Democrat Paul Quinn has raised $65,000 and spent $33,000. Republican Kathyrne Harper has raised $49,000 and spent $20,000.
The biggest financial discrepancy between candidates is in the 23rd District, where incumbent Democrat Jeff Harris has raised $92,000 and spent $58,000. Republican opponent Patrick Crabtree has raised $1,700 and spent $650.
Missourian reporters Charles Berman, Elizabeth Kusta and Matthew Haag contributed to this report.