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Sinquefield and Humphreys family are this year's biggest financial players in Missouri politics

Election 2016

Updated with more money: Since June 10, Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway has received roughly $2.4 million from three groups: Grow Missouri, Great St. Louis and Missourians for Excellence in Government.

And all three groups got their money from one man: wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, who is – by far – the state’s top political donor.

Since March, Sinquefield appears to have given no direct donations to candidates, choosing instead to send the support through the various groups he has set up.

Sinquefield spokesman Travis Brown said the three groups that donated to Hanaway were used as donation conduits, in part, to highlight the different issues that each is charged with promoting.

“The primary season is more about issue-based elections, not a donor-based election,” Brown said. “We don’t want the message to be about a donor, we want it to be about the issues.”

While Brown doesn’t mention it, using the groups to donate the money also is likely to attract less immediate attention than if the $2.4 million had come directly from Sinquefield.

Coupled with previous donations, Sinquefield and the various groups he bankrolls appear to have provided well over half the estimated $4.5 million in campaign money that Hanaway has raised so far.

Hanaway campaign manager Nick Maddux said she’s proud to have Sinquefield’s financial backing.  “We are happy Mr. Sinquefield has chosen to support Catherine’s vision to make Missouri Safe and Strong,” Maddux said, taking note of her “Safe and Strong’’ theme.

But Maddux also played down Sinquefield’s role in her finances. “Our campaign enjoys a broad base of support and has raised more money from more Missourians than any of our opponents,” he said.

Her GOP rivals are former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, who has raised the most, and whose biggest donors are from out of state; St. Louis businessman John Brunner, who is largely self-funding his campaign; and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has raised his money in smaller sums – but in June got a $500,000 boost from Joplin businessman David Humphreys and his sister, Sarah Atkins.

On the Democratic side, likely gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster -- now the state's attorney general -- has collected significant sums from labor unions and lawyers. But none of those individual groups or unions have donated as much as the top GOP players.

Sinquefield and the Humphreys family

So far this year, Sinquefield has donated more than $9.8 million to candidates, campaigns and the aforementioned groups. That’s more than twice the amount contributed in 2016 by the state’s No. 2 campaign donor: David Humphreys, chief executive of  family-owned TAMKO building products.

Humphreys and his relatives – notably, his sister -- have distributed close to $4.8 million so far this year, most of it directly to Republican candidates.


Humphreys and labor groups are currently at odds because he’s been a key player in the battle over “right to work,’’ a measure that would bar unions and employers from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues. Labor recently started a boycott against TAMKO, prompting an intense debate on Twitter.

Humphreys and his sister have donated at least $1.7 million this year to a new group he set up, the Committee for Accountable Government in Missouri, that is believed to be focused on "right to work'' and changes in the state's laws regarding lawsuits. So far, the committee has not donated to candidates.


Sinquefield’s new, and old groups

This year isn't the first time that Sinquefield has directed most of his money through campaign organizations he set up, but his current reasons appear to be different.

Before Missouri's campaign-donation limits were eliminated in 2008, Sinquefield -- who had emerged as a political player only a couple years earlier -- had gotten around those limits by setting up dozens of political groups and providing all of their funding.

Each group, in turn, would donate the maximum amount allowed -- generally no more than $1,350 for a statewide candidate. Sinquefield said at the time that he was using the groups to demonstrate the futility of campaign-donation limits.

After their repeal, Sinquefield generally has donated directly to candidates, although he did set up some campaign groups to spend money on proposed ballot issues.

But this year, he seems to be going back to his old practice of using campaign groups as a conduit to candidates. Brown says Sinquefield is doing so to promote issues, and not for any other particular point.

Sinquefield’s 2016 total is skewed, somewhat, by the $2.1 million he donated earlier this year to a now-defunct group – Vote No on the E-Tax – that was set up to challenge St. Louis’ earnings tax, which was on the April ballot.

The Vote No group was terminated in late April. After its final bills were paid, the group transferred its remaining $668,337 to Great St. Louis.

On June 10, Great St. Louis gave $278,688 to Hanaway’s campaign. On July 1, it gave her another $395,162. (This donation was after we went to press, so it's not included in our graphic.)

Great St. Louis, said Brown, is focusing on urban issues such as “crime, drugs, public safety’’ and St. Louis’ budget.

He added that Great St. Louis is likely to be active in next year’s campaign to elect a new city mayor to succeed Mayor Francis Slay, who is stepping down after serving four terms.

But Great St. Louis is a player in this year’s statewide contests as well. Aside from Hanaway, the group gave $248,764 on June 24 to Republican attorney general Kurt Schaefer, who’s competing in the Aug. 2 primary against law professor Josh Hawley.

Schaefer also received $246,123 that same day from Missourians for Excellence in Government. That group is focused on  promoting “on state and local candidates’’ involved in government and court reforms, Brown said.

“It’ll work hand in hand with Great St. Louis in the future,” Brown added.

Missourians for Excellence in Government gave $633,755 to Hanaway in June, split between two checks. And on July 1, it gave her another $454. 832. (This donation was after our graphic was created, so it is not included in the totals it lists.)

Missouri for Excellence in Government also gave $298,017 on June to Grow Missouri, which in turn gave $596,464 to Hanaway on June 24.

Grow Missouri is “laser-focused,’’ said Brown, on Sinquefield’s quest to eliminate income taxes and expand school choice and “preparing for more tax cuts.”

Grow Missouri was active in several state legislative contests in 2014. Among other things, the group is focused on “holding this governor in check,” Brown said. Sinquefield suspects that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will seek to curb implementation of the state income tax cuts, opposed by Nixon and backed by Sinquefield, that the General Assembly approved in 2015. The cuts are to begin a phase-in process next year.

Sinquefield’s preferred statewide ticket

Hanaway isn’t Sinquefield’s only favored candidate. He has donated directly, or indirectly through various groups, to a favored group of statewide candidates.

They include:

  • Republican attorney general candidate Kurt Schaefer, a state senator in a nasty contest with rival Josh Hawley, a law professor. On June 24, Sinquefield’s Missourians for Excellence in Government gave $246,123 to Schaefer, while Great St. Louis gave him $248,764. That’s on top of $500,000 that Sinquefield gave to Schaefer last fall.
  • Republican state treasurer candidate Eric Schmitt, who received the last major direct donation from Sinquefield: $500,000 in March. Schmitt had collected $250,000 earlier.
  • Lieutenant governor hopeful Bev Randles, a Kansas City lawyer and former executive director of the Missouri chapter of Club for Growth (also financed by Sinquefield). He gave her $1 million in late 2014 to kick-start her campaign.

Randles is the unusual Sinquefield candidate who’s also receiving money from Humphreys.
Humphreys and his sister have donated $300,000 to Randles this year. This month, she also collected just under $692,000 from the Missouri Club for Growth PAC, which is largely funded by Sinquefield.

The Humphreys family also is heavily supporting St. Louis lawyer Jay Ashcroft, son of former Gov. John Ashcroft, who’s running for secretary of state.

So far in 2016, Ashcroft has received $250,000 from members of the Humphreys family.  His rival, state Sen. Will Kraus, Lee’s Summit, has received no major money this year from Humphreys or Sinquefield.

But Kraus has sided with Humphreys on Twitter blasting labor's TAMKO boycott.

Sinquefield spokesman Brown said that he has backed Ashcroft and Kraus in the past, and is not choosing between them for the Aug. 2 primary.

Humphreys and Sinquefield appear to be on opposing sides when it comes to GOP candidates for governor and attorney general. Humphreys' money has gone to Kinder for governor, which is ironic since Humphreys bankrolled a GOP rival to Kinder in 2012. Humphreys had been disturbed by the controversy over Kinder's acknowledged friendship with a former stripper.

In the contest for attorney general, Humphreys is a major backer of Hawley, giving him $500,000 in May.

Humphreys also has given $100,000 this year Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and $75,000 to Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. Both support "right to work."

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