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Big Money: Missouri's governor hopefuls get huge checks for campaign's home stretch

Peter Kinder answers a question during St. Louis Public Radio's GOP gubernatorial candidate debate.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Fans of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder are hoping that his campaign for governor embodies the axiom of “it’s a sprint, not a marathon.”

As St. Louis Public Radio’s Jo Mannies reported last week, Kinder generally lagged behind the other three GOP gubernatorial hopefuls in the latest fundraising quarter. He also spent the least amount of money, which means he’s been on statewide television much less than the other three Republican candidates.

But that will likely change this week: Kinder’s campaign not only unleashed a new ad that pokes fun at the negative nature of the GOP contest, he also announced that he received a combined $1 million in donations from David Humphreys and Sarah Atkins. Humphreys and Atkins, who are brother and sister, are strong proponents of “right to work”and have given generously to Kinder and other Republican candidates during this election cycle.

"The Humphreys family believes in Peter Kinder's positive message that's focused on issues that matter and uniting our state, not tearing other Republicans down,” Kinder spokeswoman Pam Dixon said in a statement. "Like every single check and donation we receive, we are honored to have their support."

That cash infusion should allow Kinder to play his new ad a lot across the state. It features three children that are caricatured to look like rivals Eric Greitens, Catherine Hanaway and John Brunner. As the three kids literally throw mud at each other, Kinder states: “My opponents are campaigning by slinging mud and acting like children. Meanwhile I’m focused on issues that matter.”

A couple of things to note here: Hanaway and Greitens have yet to unleash any negative ads, while Brunner has launched TV spots criticizing Greitens. A third-party group (with a hard-to-decipher funding source) known as the LG PAC has been lambasting Brunner on television for several weeks.

And pretty much all of the candidates have mixed it up at public debates or forums, including Kinder. During the recent St. Louis Public Radio debate, Kinder issued a very forceful denunciation of Greitens’ decision to take $1 million from California venture capitalist Michael Gougen.

SEALs for Greitens

Speaking of Greitens, his campaign answered Kinder’s donation in a big way on Monday afternoon when a group called “SEALs for Truth” gave $1,975,000 to his campaign. 

Eric Greitens answers a question during St. Louis Public Radio's GOP gubernatorial candidate debate.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Eric Greitens answers a question during St. Louis Public Radio's GOP gubernatorial candidate debate.

This marks the largest contribution Greitens has received for his gubernatorial bid, which is saying something. According to a search on the Missouri Ethics Commission site, Greitens’ campaign has received roughly 14 donations that were $100,000 or more since 2015 (including two $500,000 checks from Gougen). None comes close to the nearly $2 million check from SEALs for Truth.

Not much is known about SEALs for Truth or its funders. The group appears to be an independent expenditure organization, which should at some point disclose its donors. It was created in June, according to documents from the Federal Elections Commission. Its treasurer is Nicholas Britt, who has a phone number with a St. Louis area code and a Washington, D.C., post office box.

A call to Britt’s number was not returned as of Monday afternoon. But the group sent St. Louis Public Radio an unsigned statement that explained how SEALs for Truth "was formed to support veterans as candidates for public office who have the passion and integrity necessary to lead in challenging times." It went onto say that "as former Navy SEALs we make up the largest number of donors to our organization."

"Over the past several months a decorated former Navy SEAL of the highest integrity, Eric Greitens, has
come under attack by status quo career politicians and other political insiders who he is challenging as a
candidate for Governor of Missouri," the statement said. "As a proven leader of unwavering integrity, we cannot stand by and idly watch as one of our brothers is falsely attacked."

(It's worth noting that Greitens has tried to tie Brunner to a group called Patriots for America, which created a website criticizing Greitens' record. That group was organized very similarly to SEALs for Truth,and is solely funded by a hard-to-decipher entity called "Franklin and Lee.")

The SEALs for Truth donation wasn’t the only notable check that Greitens received recently: Late last week, Greitens nabbed $200,000 from billionaire Sheldon Adelson. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the casino magnate is one of the most prolific political donors in the country.

Koster cash

These huge donations have become somewhat commonplace in the GOP race for governor this year. And it shouldn't be that surprising: Missouri has no campaign contribution limits, which allows campaigns to take in donations of unlimited size.

In addition to the Humphreys/Atkins contributions to Kinder and Greitens’ wealth of big donors, Hanaway has received almost $3 million this year from financier Rex Sinquefield and his associated PACs. And Brunner has poured millions of dollars of his own money into campaign. (In fact, after this article was published on late Tuesday morning, Brunner gave his campaign $1 million.)

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster greets attendees at the Truman Dinner, the Missouri Democratic Party's annual gathering.
Credit File photo by Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster

But just because lots of money is flowing into the Republican race doesn’t mean that likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster is missing out.

Over the weekend, the Missouri Ethics Commission showed that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $500,000 to likely Democratic nominee Chris Koster. It’s the largest contribution that Koster has taken in 2016.

The AFSME donation marks the 15th donation of $100,000 or more that was sent to Koster’s campaign in 2016. All of the $100,000 or more checks came from labor unions, which isn’t surprising given the circumstances.

Koster has opposed “right to work” for most of his political career. And since all four Republicans support right to work, Koster may be the only person who can stop that policy from becoming law. Thus the deluge of money from organized labor groups.

As his Republican rivals duke it out, Koster is sitting on more than $10 million of campaign money to presumably spend after the Aug. 2 primary. And it's not out of the question that groups like Democratic Governors Association may ship him millions more, which means that Missourians can expect to see Koster's face and hear his radio-friendly voice a lot over the fall.

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