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Missouri Club for Growth likes Sinquefield, but seeks to rely less on his money

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Bev Randles, the new chair of the Missouri Club for Growth, has several objectives for this year. Among them: expanding the major donor base beyond wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield.

Sinquefield contributed $660,000 to the group in 2012 – representing virtually all of the Missouri Club for Growth’s funding.

“My main focus right now is to increase the number of donors that we have around the state,” Randles said. “We have a much larger and diverse board of directors right now. Rex is still our largest, by far.”

While seeking to expand its funding source, the Missouri chapter of the Club for Growth has a legislative agenda in line with Sinquefield’s aims. In particular: cutting or eliminating the state’s income tax and replacing it with higher sales taxes.

Randles said the group will lobby the General Assembly to back SB26, the measure approved by the state Senate that reduces the state’s income taxes and increases the state’s sales tax. The measure is now before the state House.

The bill, she said, is “right in line with what the Club for Growth stands for. Our position is that a sales tax would be better for Missouri. We think it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Club for Growth’s heavy focus on eliminating the income tax and raising the sales tax is a departure from its past when the state chapter focused primarily on candidates in 2010 and 2012. In 2011, it raised virtually no money and didn’t appear to be active during that year’s legislative sessions.

Randles said the group will take a higher profile during this session’s final months, largely to lobby for measures to trim or eliminate the state’s income tax.

Club for Growth doesn’t plan to work with another nationally affiliated group, the Missouri chapter for Americans for Prosperity, although Randles emphasized that she respected AFP’s activities in Missouri.

The AFP has been lobbying the General Assembly for bills that curb union rights in the workplace. Club for Growth will be staying out of that fight, Randles said.

Randles, of Kansas City, is the wife of Bill Randles, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2012. The couple jointly operates a consulting firm.

Meanwhile, Sinquefield has no objections to the group expanding its donor base, but he's still likely to increase his contributions to Club for Growth, said legislative spokesman Travis H. Brown.

Brown said that Sinquefield strongly believes that replacing Missouri's income tax with a sales tax is the best way to attract businesses, create jobs and improve Missouri's economy.

(Sinquefield had largely bankrolled a scuttled initiative-petition effort to place the proposal on the 2012 statewide ballot. He has said he plans to press for such a ballot effort again, if it's needed.)

Missouri now is 48th in the country in economic growth during the decade from 2000 to 2010, Brown said, with only Michigan and Ohio ranking lower. Both states' Republican governors are moving to cut income taxes as part of their effort to their states' economic climate, he said.

(Gov. Jay Nixon has countered by citing Missouri's job growth, and the fact that its unemployment rate is lower than the national average.)

Brown asserted that Missouri could end up "dead last'' in economic growth unless there is "broad structural reform'' in the state's tax structure. As a result, he said that Sinquefield is prepared financially to do what he can to elect like-minded legislators and to continue to aid like-minded groups like Missouri's Club for Growth.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.