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McCaskill explains why she's campaigning for donation limits, and against Blunt

Gage Skidmore | Flickr

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., plans to travel around Missouri and the country in coming weeks campaigning for favored candidates and causes on the Nov. 8 ballot. Among her activities: attempting to defeat her Missouri colleague, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. – even though they often work together.

“It is awkward,’’ McCaskill said in an interview. But as she sees it, she’s simply mirroring Blunt’s actions of a few years ago.

“I’ve reminded Sen. Blunt a few times that when Todd Akin (her 2012 GOP opponent) made his comment about legitimate rape, there was one person in Missouri who was on his cell phone 48 hours straight, trying to get Todd Akin to drop out and get another candidate in the race to beat me,’’ McCaskill said. “And that was none other than Roy Blunt.”

“He certainly was anxious to defeat me in 2012 because he wanted to see the Republicans have their agenda in the Senate,’’ she continued. “I think he understands that I’m for (Democrat) Jason Kander, just as he was busy trying to figure out a way to defeat me in 2012.”

Among other things, McCaskill said she’s been pressuring the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to shift more money into Missouri on Kander’s behalf. To make her case, she has been pointing to numerous polls that show the Blunt-Kander contest to be close.

So far, Blunt’s campaign isn’t commenting.

Senate rivalries often the norm, with notable exception

In recent decades in Missouri, the actions by Blunt and McCaskill to oust each other aren’t too unusual.

In 2002, for example, then-U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo., campaigned against his colleague at the time, U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo. Bond helped the man who defeated her, Republican Jim Talent.

Four years later, Bond campaigned for Talent in his intense battle against McCaskill, who won. Despite that backdrop, McCaskill and Bond got along well after the election.

The rarer occurrence is the strong bipartisan friendship in the 1970s and ‘80s between Missouri’s two U.S. senators at the time, Republican John C. Danforth and Democrat Thomas F. Eagleton.

Although the two often didn’t agree on the issues, they generally didn’t openly campaign against each other – or for their own party’s Senate contenders -- during their re-elections. But in their joint appearances after both retired, Eagleton and Danforth acknowledged that their camaraderie was not the norm.

Blunt isn’t McCaskill’s only campaign target this fall. She says she is traveling to various states – notably Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas – to campaign for Democratic Senate candidates. She also expects to campaign for her party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

McCaskill backs new campaign-finance limits

McCaskill also has a second aim as she travels around Missouri. She plans to promote Amendment 2, an initiative-petition proposal to reinstate campaign donation limits for statewide and legislative candidates. 

“This isn’t perfect, but it’s so much better than what we have now. Which is nothing,” McCaskill said. “I want it to pass very badly. It’s a great first step.”

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Monday that Amendment 2 will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. The measure would limit individual donations to $2,600 apiece for candidates seeking statewide or legislative office. The proposal doesn’t affect local contests.

Critics object to the proposal’s lack of local limits, and some had hoped the high court would keep it off the ballot. Opposition had centered on the proposal’s ban on donations from state chartered banks and investor-owned utilities, such as Ameren and KCP&L.

Missouri has had no donation limits since 2008, when Republicans controlling the General Assembly and then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, tossed out the old limits that had been in place since 1995.

(The state’s voters approved strict limits in 1994, months after the General Assembly and then-Gov. Mel Carnahan approved slightly larger limits. The U.S. Supreme Court acted in 1999 to eliminate the lower voter-approved limits.)

McCaskill contended that the Republicans who eliminated the limits in 2008 “basically kicked sand in the eyes of Missourians and said, ‘We know better.’ “

She noted that candidates for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House are governed by federal donation limits ($2,700 per election from individuals and $5,000 from political action committees). While the restrictions make congressional money-raising more time consuming, McCaskill said it’s better for the public and for government than Missouri’s lack of limits for state, legislative and local candidates.

She noted that it’s now routine for Missouri candidates to collect donations of $50,000 or more. “I can’t imagine calling someone and saying, ‘Give me $100,000,’ “ McCaskill said. “And I can’t imagine that person calling me later” and seeking influence.

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