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State Democratic Party accuses Akin of violating campaign laws as GOP groups jump back in

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 26, 2012 - The Missouri Democratic Party is jumping into the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Todd Akin and Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill by filing formal complaints that state Democratic chairman Mike Sanders asserts reflect concern that Akin has engaged in “pay for play.”

The complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. House’s ethics panel.  

The FEC complaint also contends that Akin violated the federal law barring coordination between a candidate and independent political action committees, which are allowed – if there’s no coordination – to spend far more than the $5,000 limit on a direct PAC contribution to a candidate’s campaign.

Akin's advisor Rick Tyler -- reached during Akin's campaign-bus tour -- called such accusations “a baseless charge … designed to distract the voters’ attention from Claire McCaskill’s record.”

The dispute comes as top Republican groups and officials are now announcing their support of Akin, after pressing unsuccessfully for more than a month for Akin to drop out after he asserted on TV that victims of “legitimate rape” have hormonal defenses that help prevent them from getting pregnant. He has since apologized.

At issue: Akin's view of earmarks or PAC coordination?

The big issue in the state Democratic Party’s complaints is whether Akin improperly cut a deal with influential U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., in which Akin would agree to change his stance on congressional “earmarks” in exchange for independent campaign money from DeMint’s allied SuperPAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Like McCaskill, DeMint has been an outspoken opponent of earmarks, in which members of Congress use their clout privately to allocate money in a bill for a project or program.

Akin has publicly stated in the past that he supports earmarks, but the congressman says that his stance has been misinterpreted because of confusion over what constitutes an “earmark.”

He says that he opposes those done in secret and that he doesn’t define as an earmark an allocations of spending that a member of Congress obtains in public. Akin and his campaign have cited his support of various past legislation that largely sought to curb certain types of earmarks.

As for the PAC coordination, Akin did confirm to the Beacon on Monday, during a news conference with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, that Akin’s staff had been in discussions with DeMint’s staff over the issue of earmarks and possible campaign help.

Sanders, the Jackson County Executive, alleged in a conference call with reporters that such a discussion – highlighted in the FEC complaint – “has the flavor of bribery, has the flavor of ‘pay for play.’ “

However, Sanders acknowledged that Akin has yet to engage in any votes that could back up such accusations.

Sanders disputed Akin’s contention that his stance on earmarks was unchanged but misinterpreted by the press and colleagues. Sanders called the explanation “last-minute spin to rationalize and justify a change in position.”

In any case, any discussions between Akin’s staff and DeMint’s staff regarding SuperPAC help might be interpreted as appearing to violate the law regarding coordination – regardless of any link to earmarks.

Democrats, GOP -- and Danforth -- weigh in

Still, it’s unclear how much attention the state Democratic Party’s House ethics complaint would receive in the Republican-controlled chamber.

National Republican and Democratic groups do appear to be paying lots of attention to the contest, with GOP officials now reversing their earlier stances that they wouldn’t help Akin because of his comment about rape.

DeMint and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. – and a favorite with religious conservatives – issued a joint statement Wednesday endorsing Akin. "If Republicans are to win back the Senate and stop President (Barack) Obama's liberal agenda, we must defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri,” they said.

“Her support of President Obama's job-killing, big-spending policies are sending our country into an economic abyss. And her passionate support of ObamaCare is ensuring health-care costs go up while quality of care goes down. Simply put, we cannot afford six more years of Sen. McCaskill.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also indicates that it may be ready to buy TV ads in Missouri against McCaskill. Executive Director Rob Jesmer said in a statement that the campaign committee hopes Akin "wins in November, and we will continue to monitor this race closely in the days ahead."

And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee may be ready to follow suit -- although the fight over "earmarks” wasn't cited as the reason.

The DSCC’s chair, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement that renewed GOP support for Akin “is absolutely shameful. All Republican candidates across the country are now going to have to answer for their party's support of Akin. Their decision to support Akin should leave zero doubt in anyone’s mind that the Republican Party and the candidates they support are downright dangerous for women.”

Retired GOP Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., told reporters in Columbia, Mo., that the issue for Republicans remains the comments that Akin made about rape.

“He has become the type of somebody who has just been totally written off by women, and I think that’s the problem,” Danforth said. “The Republican Party has to stick with its basic points — the economy and the debt and the future of the country, and not get in these side issues and lop off large groups of the public.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.