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Transportation Tax Proposal And Schmitt Benefit From Deluge Of Donations

stacks of money

The first week of July has been a boon for the main group campaigning for the proposed transportation sales tax on the Aug. 5 ballot and for just-announced Republican state treasurer candidate Eric Schmitt.

In the last 24 hours alone, Missourians for Safe Transportation & New Jobs Inc. has collected at least $410,000 – much of it from road construction firms and related unions.

That money – all in contributions ranging from $7,500 to $170,000 -- is in addition to another $420,000 in large donations that the group collected on July 3.

The $830,000 that Missourians for Safe Transportation has taken in since July 1 represents only donations larger than $5,000 apiece. Since Jan. 1, the group has collected at least $2.5 million in such large contributions. The total amount of money that the group has collected so far, and spent, will be reported on July 15.

The latest deluge of dollars comes less than a month before the primary. That's when voters will decide on a proposal to increase Missouri’s sales tax by 0.75 percent for 10 years to pay for highway and bridge construction around the state. Plans include widening Interstate 70, which spans the state east to west.

So far, the backers have yet to launch any major TV ad campaign, amid political splits over the proposal and skepticism about its chances. But the money pouring in hints that a flood of ads may be about to commence.

Sinquefield provides strong financial support for Schmitt

As for Schmitt, his announcement last week that he’s running for state treasurer in 2016 has led to a flurry of campaign donations likely aimed at discouraging any other candidates in either party.

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Credit Missouri Senate website
Eric Schmitt

Schmitt, R-Glendale, received $250,000 from wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, who has been the state’s most generous campaign donor for several years. The contribution was made on the same day as Schmitt's announcement.

Schmitt was a major sponsor of the income-tax cut that the Missouri General Assembly passed this last session, overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. Sinquefield, who opposes income taxes, backed that cut. Sinquefield has said that Missouri’s economy could improve if it eliminated its income tax and replaced it with a higher sales tax.

Sinquefield’s contribution to Schmitt also is noteworthy because the financier generally has shifted away from giving directly to candidates. Instead, he has directed most of his money in recent years to causes and political groups.

On June 30, for example, Sinquefield gave $100,000 to Missourians for Excellence in Government – a group he helped found less than two years ago. The group has, in turn, directed some money to candidates in both parties. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat, has been among those receiving contributions from the group.

File photo
Rex Sinquefield

As for Schmitt, Sinquefield wasn’t his only major donor. Schmitt also received $70,000 in other large donations within the past week, including $25,000 from area businessman Doug Albrecht and $15,000 from businessman Dave Spence, the GOP’s unsuccessful nominee for governor in 2012.

In one week, Schmitt's donations totalled at least $320,000 -- significantly boosting his campaign bank account. His last report, filed in April, showed Schmitt with $866,000 in the bank. His next tally, filed July 15, should show Schmitt with more than $1 million. That could discourage any potential rivals in either party.

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