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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.

Checking The Score: How Well Did Sinquefield-Backed Candidates Fare?

Rex Sinquefield
Courtesy of Rex Sinquefield's website

When it comes to donating to Missouri candidates and causes, retired financier Rex Sinquefield may subscribe to the idea of “going big or going home.” 

This past election campaign is no exception. Sinquefield has  given out around $4.4 million so far this year to support ballot initiatives, candidates and friendly political groups. That money has flowed directly -- or through outside groups -- to a host of candidates who competed in last week’s primary elections.

Sinquefield is by far the state's largest individual political donor. An analysis showed he had given nearly $23 million more in contributions from 2008 to 2013 than the second biggest donor, Joplin businessman David Humphreys. It's also far more than the largest donor who tends to give more to Democratic candidates, William Danforth.

The results of Sinquefield's largess were decidedly mixed. For instance, Missouri Club for Growth – a group almost completely funded by Sinquefield – targeted four Republican state representatives who voted against a 2013 tax cut package. All four of those GOP lawmakers – Reps. Nate Walker, Jeff Messenger, Lyle Rowland and Paul Fitzwater – won, even though hundreds of thousands of dollars went toward their defeat.

It’s a result that brought about outright glee among Sinquefield detractors. I think Tuesday was a bad day for Rex,” said Sean Soendker Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri. “And we were happy to see that.”

But those four races don’t tell the whole story. Around 20 of the candidates who received money directly or indirectly from Sinquefield emerged victorious last week. That included contenders who received help from Missouri Club for Growth, such as Republican legislative candidates Bob Onder, Jay Ashcroft and Rebecca Roeber. Sinquefield's money also went to candidates facing competitive general elections -- and the soon-to-be-decided ballot measure alter the state's teacher tenure laws.

It stands to reason that a state senator like Onder or Ashcroft (if he wins a competitive general election) will have more power to control legislation than any of the four state reps who were targeted. And it's worth noting that Walker, Messenger, Rowland and Fitzwater all voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax cut earlier this year.

It might be why Missouri Club for Growth executive director Bev Randles declared in a statement that her group was “proud of its work during this election cycle in helping true conservative candidates throughout this state get elected and reelected.”

“The organization is also proud of its efforts to hold accountable office holders who claim to be conservative, yet refuse to vote according to those principles,” Randles said.

In any case, we took it upon ourselves to add up all of Sinquefield’s donations to candidates; we also included three of his supportive groups’ direct contributions and independent expenditures.: Missouri Club for Growth, Grow Missouri and Missourians for Excellence in Government.

From a look at the total numbers, it's evident more money was spent on candidates who lost (close to $834,000) than ones who won (close to $330,000). And the money spent for candidates like Onder and Roeber took up a smaller percentage of the candidates’ total contributions than the opponents of the four target lawmakers.

Here’s what we found:


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

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