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McCaskill Blasts 'Wild West' Approach In Missouri Politics

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., contends that Missouri’s “Wild West” approach to politics — which imposes no restrictions on campaign donations or lobbyists — is partly to blame for her party’s lack of a candidate for state auditor this fall.

But the senator also asserts that the current state of affairs for Missouri campaigns isn’t good for anyone or any political party, calling it “bizarre and, frankly, not good for our government.”

“Missouri is the ‘Wild West.’ It has fewer restrictions than any other state in the union in terms of how money can fly around in Jeff City,” McCaskill said in a interview Tuesday that touched on her earlier remarks to local scientists.

Campaign money "can come from any source in any amount," she said. "Gifts (from lobbyists) are fine, and you can be a legislator one day and a lobbyist the next day. That is not true in any other state in the union. We’re the only state that has all of those things.”

In the case of someone considering a statewide contest like auditor, and who’s not well known, the situation can be “off-putting,” she continued, “because people are worried that there’s going to be a big donor on the other side.”

McCaskill noted, for example, that this week’s campaign-finance report filed by state Auditor Tom Schweich – a Republican now expected to cruise to re-election this fall – showed that he had received $100,000 from St. Louis businessman Sam Fox.

She didn’t mention that one of the region’s top Democrats — St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley — also reported a $100,000 donation on his campaign report, from Jeanne Sinquefield, wife of financier Rex Sinquefield. 

McCaskill noted that Missouri still had campaign-donation limits when she successfully ran for auditor in 1998, later winning re-election in 2002.  She said such limits created a fairer environment for candidates and for the public. And she emphasized that those limits stemmed from overwhelming support shown by Missouri voters at the polls.

Sinquefield and Fox now are among Missouri’s top political donors.  While not mentioning either man by name, McCaskill told her audience of scientists at St. Louis-based Cortex that allowing such huge donations from a single person is damaging to the state and hurts average Missourians.

“This notion that you have one man who writes a $150,000 check to state representatives is bizarre to me,” said McCaskill. “You think his phone calls get returned? You think he can get in to have his conversation (with an officeholder)?  I guarantee you. I guarantee you.”

She added, “There’s nothing evil about him wanting to spend his money on politics. But it does put his thumb on the system in terms of access. I think that’s a problem.”

Pledges support for scientific research

McCaskill’s comments came amid an appeal to the region’s scientific community to be more vocal in lobbying politicians to be more supportive about science and scientific research.

In Washington, she said, some conservatives seek to cut out all federal funding for scientific research, particularly research at federal facilities such as the National Institutes for Health. Some politicians, she said, “believe that what NIH does, can be done in the private sector.”

McCaskill quoted recent comments from a congressional candidate in Georgia who referred to some scientific research as "straight from the gates of hell."

What scientists and their allies can do, McCaskill said, is to be more vocal in defending such federal involvement in spawning the research that often then generates private job creation. "You are more powerful than you realize,'' she said. "You are the job creators."

She pointed to St. Louis' Cortex, which is a regional hub for technology and start-up scientific companies.

“Cortex is exactly what all of us like to talk about as a job creator,” she said. “This is the home to innovation and science and technology that will create the kinds of jobs that every American dreams of having. But we’ve got to make sure we’re supporting the federal institutions that allow this place to flourish.”

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.