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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

Democrats Edge Out Republicans In Big Donations In 2013

(via Flickr/401K)

For most intents and purposes, it was all quiet on Missouri's electoral front in 2013. But that didn’t stop the money from flowing to candidates and campaigns. 

Throughout last year, a diverse group of donors gave well over $21 million worth of donations of $5,000 or more. That money flowed to candidates, political party committees, ballot initiatives and political action committees in all corners of the state.

That $21 million was made up of 798 donations. Interestingly, Democratic candidates and committees received more in big donations than their Republican counterparts. That was fueled by hefty fundraising totals from Democratic statewide officials such as Attorney General Chris Koster and Gov. Jay Nixon.

But it also helped that big donations to Democrats were more varied. Typically, contributions to Democratic candidates and causes came from corporations, legal firms, unions and health-care organizations. In contrast, big Republican donations generally came from individuals or PACs.

University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor Dave Robertson says he wasn’t surprised by the analysis’ findings. Statewide candidates are often in a position to collect larger contributions, he said, because they serve larger constituencies.  

Robertson also said that Republicans shouldn’t necessarily be worried. Even though Republicans’ big donor base isn’t as diversified as Democrats, he said, “It’s a pretty affluent base.”

“Companies or interest groups or unions that want to influence legislators will tend to scatter the money around in different districts,” Robertson said. “And because we have so many legislators, particular in the (Missouri) House, a little bit of money can go a long way in some of the small constituencies that our legislators represent.”

Still, the vast majority of money went to political action committees or ballot initiatives. And retired financier Rex Sinquefield was one of the biggest contributors to these types of campaign committees, including a well-funded public campaign to override Nixon’s veto of tax cut legislation.   

But those PACs could potentially get involved in GOP legislative primaries next year – which may not be much of a positive for Republicans. Robertson said, “Both parties are finding these independent expenditures to be a challenge to them – as well as a benefit.”   

“Both parties, but especially Republicans at this point with announced Tea Party challenges across the country, are more worried about the funding that can’t be controlled,” Robertson said. “But Democrats suffered with that… outside spending that has negatively affected the candidates that can’t control the messages that have been put out on their behalf. It’s true for the Republicans and it’s true for the Democrats.” 

Here's a closer look at big donations to Missouri candidates and causes: 

In context

The total amount of donations of more than $5,000 apiece was down sharply from 2012. That's not surprising since 2012 was a major election year. But it was up from 2011 -- another non-election year:

Democrats lead the way

While most money in big donations went to political action committees and ballot initiatives, Democratic candidates and committees received more donations of $5,000 or more during 2013 than their Republican counterparts:

Republican candidates and committees received more big donations from individuals and committee-to-committee transfers. “Committee-to-committee transfers” is the term to describe donations from third-party political action committees or from one political candidate to another.

But Democratic candidates and committees received more money from labor unions, law firms and attorneys, corporations (such as Ameren, Peabody Energy or Enterprise Holdings) and health-care organizations:  

Attorney General Chris Koster has directed $40 million of Missouri's mortgage settlement to the state budget.
Credit (Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio)
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster

Koster rakes it in

The Democrats' edge in big donations is due largely to Attorney General Chris Koster, the party's likely nominee for governor in 2016. In 2013 Koster took in $1,295,313 in donations of more than $5,000 apiece. That's more than any other individual candidate. (Click here to read more about Koster's haul from big donors.)

Koster's big donors were fairly diverse, coming from unions, corporations, individuals and law firms:

Koster's haul in 2013 was more than Missouri's five other statewide officials combined. But the total for all Democratic statewide officials contributed mightily to the Democratic edge over Republican candidates and committees: 

Give it away

The Democratic fundraising advantage would be even more pronounced if self-funding were taken out of the equation. Republican candidates loaned themselves $666,501, compared to the $308, 497 that Democratic candidates gave to themselves. Here are some of the biggest examples:

Ballot busters

While 2013 wasn't a statewide election year, donors gave plenty of money to ballot initiatives. Some money went toward local ballot items decided during 2013, while others went to groups seeking to get on next year's statewide ballot. Here's some takeaways:

The biggest ballot initiative in the St. Louis area in 2013 was Proposition P. That's the sales tax increase in St. Louis and St. Louis County for parks, trails and the Gateway Arch grounds. It passed overwhelmingly in St. Louis and narrowly in St. Louis County, which means the 3/16ths of one-cent increase will remain in effect for the next 20 years. Here's some takeaways from that vote:

Next: A closer look at where Missouri's most prolific individual donors directed their money in 2013.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.