Mo. Mega-Donor Challenges Efforts to Limit Contributions

2 years 4 months 4 days ago December 26, 2013 Dec 26, 2013 Thursday, December 26 2013 Thursday, December 26, 2013 6:40:00 PM CST in News
By: Nick Thompson, KOMU 8 Reporter

JEFFERSON CITY - Although retired index fund pioneer Rex Sinquefield is a private citizen, he is often a key figure in the public debate surrounding Missouri's campaign finance system.

In the 1970s, Sinquefield helped create the first index funds at Standard and Poor's.

The St. Louis native led a long career in finance and no one knows for certain how much wealth he accumulated in his career. Some estimate Sinquefield is worth billions.

Sinquefield often opens his wallet to donate to political candidates and committees in the Show-Me State. According to an analysis of Missouri Ethics Commission campaign finance reports by the St. Louis Beacon, Sinquefield has given more money to public officials than any other individual in the state since the 2008 general election. From 2008-2013, Sinquefield has donated nearly $27 million to candidates and committees with proven records in advancing his causes.

Sinquefield's two major issues are income tax cuts and school choice initiatives. Sinquefield wants Missouri to become the tenth state in the country to eliminate individual income taxes.

Sinquefield wants to advance new, fresh ideas in these two arenas because he feels it will lead his home city of St. Louis and his home state of Missouri to prosperity.

"I love the state of Missouri, I love St. Louis, and I love being back from California," Sinquefield told the Missouri Council for a Better Economy in 2011."Every day I feel like I've died and gone to heaven. I love it but what I'm very frustrated by is the terribly slow growth that the city has and the state has."

Sinquefield received an MBA from the University of Chicago and studied under free-market economic thinkers. He founded the Show-Me-Institute, a free market, libertarian policy think-tank that takes on tax issues in Missouri.

Although Sinquefield's two causes are often championed by conservative lawmakers, he invests in people who will support his causes, regardless of their political affiliation. Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster received more than $250,000 from Sinquefield before the Nov. 2012 elections.

Some state lawmakers and groups say mega-donors like Sinquefield leave a much larger imprint in policy-making because they wield disproportionately more influence because of their wealth.

Opponents of Missouri's unlimited campaign finance system often refer to Sinquefield as an example of why lawmakers and voters should call for changes.

Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander told KOMU 8 News the average Missourian feels like they do not have a voice in what he calls Missouri's "lawless" campaign finance system.

"I think that Missourians in many cases feel like they're left out of the process if they don't have the ability to write enormous checks, and it's our responsibility as leaders in this state to make sure people are brought into the process not alienated from it," Kander said.

TRIMMING TAXES

Sinquefield was recently tied to a massive campaign effort launched by pro-growth business groups before the September veto session.

After Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed House Bill 253, an income tax cut bill, Grow Missouri, the Associated Industries of Missouri and others joined forces to create a multi-media advertising blitz to advocate for the tax cut.

Sinquefield gave more than $2 million to the effort.

Sinquefield has also donated millions to Let Voters Decide, a group he created to push for the elimination of income taxes.

Kansas City and St. Louis residents and non-residents who work in the city pay an income tax worth one percent of their income known as the earnings tax, or "e" tax. The tax funds significant portions of municipal government in both cities.

In 2010, Let Voters Decide backed a ballot initiative that was approved by Missouri voters. The initiative barred any other cities in Missouri from imposing an earnings tax and also required a new vote on earnings taxes in both Kansas City and St. Louis. Each decade, the two cities now have to allow residents to vote on whether they want the city to continue to levy the tax.

In 2011, Let Voters Decide backed a ballot initiative to eliminate Missouri's income tax and fund state government with a higher sales tax. The proposal did not make it on to the 2012 general election ballot.

SCHOOL CHOICE

Sinquefield is also a contributor to the Children's Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM). The group is currently behind a ballot initiative effort, which if approved by voters, would eliminate teacher tenure in the state. It would also require personnel decisions to be guided by teacher evaluations.

CEAM registered lobbyist Kate Casas is referred to as a "Sinquefield lobbyist" by groups like the Missouri State Teachers Association and the Missouri National Education Association. The group is currently mired in controversy because it approached Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner Chris Nicastro to receive feedback on its ballot language and fiscal note.

Education groups disapprove of how Nicastro has worked with Casas and the initiative's proponents.

Nicastro has defended her actions, saying she works with hundreds of lawmakers and groups who come to her and ask for advice in drafting legislation or other policy changes.

LIMITING CONTRIBUTIONS

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Fred Sauer is the leader of The Missouri Roundtable for Life, an anti-abortion group.

During his gubernatorial run he vowed to reinstate Missouri's campaign contribution limits.

He said the current campaign finance system gives off an image of corruption.

That's why Missouri Roundtable for Life wants to limit individual contributions to a candidate to $2600.

The group's ballot language has been approved by Kander's office.

"Excessive campaign contributions to political candidates create the potential for corruption and the appearance of corruption," the group wrote in the measure. "Large campaign contributions made to influence election outcomes allow wealthy individuals, corporations and special interest groups to exercise a disproportionate level of influence over the political process.

Missouri's campaign finance system has changed three times in the last two decades. Voters decided by an overwhelming margin in 1994 to limit contributions.

Then Attorney General Jay Nixon argued the limits before the U.S. Supreme Court and won in 2000.

Gov. Matt Blunt signed a bill into law in 2008 to remove contribution limits after the Missouri Supreme Court upheld them.

In 2010, the Democratic led General Assembly passed a bill to reinstate the contribution limits. That law was eventually overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court and since then, Missouri has had an unlimited system.

Sinquefield hired lawyers from the Jefferson City office of the Blitz, Bardgett and Deutsch law firm to challenge the ballot language of Missouri Roundtable for Life's initiative petition.

One of its attorneys, Marc Ellinger told KOMU 8 News the current campaign finance system is lawful, transparent and should stay the way it is.

Ellinger said large contributions do not necessarily carry more weight and are just one of many forms of participation in the political process.

"It's no different than taking out newspaper ads or organizing grassroots campaigns," Ellinger said. "The purpose of those donations is to influence public thinking or public speech. And there are people on both sides of every one of these issues."

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem made a decision on Sinquefield's legal challenge to the ballot initative on Nov. 27. Beetum gave the go-ahead to parts of the proposal but also asked the State Auditor and Secretary of State to review the fiscal note and other parts of it.  

Ellinger said he is fighting the proposal because he believes the Supreme Court will overturn this campaign contribution constitutional amendment and the state will have to spend taxpayer money to defend legal challenges from people like Sinquefield.

Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said lofty contributions do not always help mega-donors get their way in Jefferson City.

Wood was one of 15 House Republicans who did not vote with the rest of his caucus to override Nixon's veto of House Bill 253.

Wood said Sinquefield-backed pro-growth groups like Grow Missouri spent a lot of money on a multi-media ad blitz, but never came to the Capitol to have meaningful policy conversations with lawmakers.

"I don't know what they hoped to accomplish before going to the public before coming to us," Wood said. "Because all of those organizations that sent out and put out that money... they have not come through my door and talked with me directly."

Wood said he voted for the tax cut bill the first time but started doing more research and thought it was a bad bill.

Wood said more than 60 percent of his constituents told him to vote no, and said that influenced his decision-making, not campaign spending.

"If it's a good tax bill you won't have to spend $2 million to pass it," Wood said.

"In the end the measures are the ones that voters vote upon, not what people say and not who writes checks," Ellinger said. "People as a general statement are smart enough to figure out what the right thing to do is and what the wrong thing to do is."

If Missouri Roundtable for Life gets past the legal challenges, it needs to get more than 150,000 signatures to get the proposal on the ballot because it is a proposed constitutional amendment.

Missouri voters would decide next November whether to change the campaign finance system again.

 

 

More News

Grid
List
COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri College of Engineering students introduced this year's race car built for the upcoming competition... More >>
1 hour ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 2:45:00 PM CDT in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Ameren Missouri is proposing two voluntary programs that would require customers' to support more solar power.... More >>
2 hours ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 1:57:48 PM CDT in News
NEW MELLE (AP) — A university that owned the two-century-old house in suburban St. Louis that once was famed frontiersman... More >>
3 hours ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:15:17 PM CDT in News
COLUMBIA (AP) — An interim diversity officer at the Un iversity of Missouri will be returning to the university's School... More >>
4 hours ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:10:03 PM CDT in News
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri's Republican-led Legislature is weighing a number of tax breaks for businesses as the session wraps... More >>
4 hours ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:06:09 PM CDT in News
BALLWIN (AP) — The Latest on Missouri's congressional district Republican conventions (all times local): 4:45 p.m. Donald Trump has... More >>
4 hours ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 11:59:00 AM CDT in News
ST. LOUIS — After a month of food donations, Missouri Farm Bureau Insurance will announce the total weight of its... More >>
7 hours ago May 01, 2016 May 1, 2016 Sunday, May 01 2016 Sunday, May 01, 2016 8:59:00 AM CDT in News
COLUMBIA — The Boone County Sheriff's Department, Columbia Police Department and Jefferson City Police Department collected unused or unwanted prescription... More >>
19 hours ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 8:28:00 PM CDT in News
SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A 28-year-old Springfield man has been sentenced to two life terms for fatally stabbing a rural southwest... More >>
23 hours ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 4:23:26 PM CDT in Continuous News
COLUMBIA — Safe Kids Columbia unveiled its new Safe Kids Mobile Education Unit Saturday. Children also learned about safety while... More >>
23 hours ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 4:20:00 PM CDT in News
COLUMBIA — Boone Hospital gave community members a chance to receive a variety of free cancer screenings at their 3rd... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:54:00 PM CDT in News
BOONE COUNTY — A woman was hospitalized after crashing her car on Highway 63 Saturday afternoon. According to the... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:49:00 PM CDT in News
CHICAGO - The NFL Draft has called and Mizzou answered. Today three former Missouri Tigers were selected in the... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:23:00 PM CDT in Top Stories
JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Junior Golf Foundation opened the Ken Lanning Golf Center Saturday morning. The golf course... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:20:00 PM CDT in News
COLUMBIA — Hundreds of mid-Missourians gathered at Bass Pro Shops Lake Saturday morning for the fifth annual "Float Your Boat... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 2:41:00 PM CDT in News
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — There are two weeks left for the Missouri Legislature to pass bills, and some Democrats are... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 1:27:24 PM CDT in News
COLUMBIA — The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) said Saturday a man who they arrested on Wednesday has died. ... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 8:53:00 AM CDT in News
MEXICO — Parents, teachers and potential foster parents are taking the opportunity to offer their kids a better life by... More >>
1 day ago April 30, 2016 Apr 30, 2016 Saturday, April 30 2016 Saturday, April 30, 2016 6:15:00 AM CDT in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 65°
5pm 63°
6pm 63°
7pm 61°
8pm 59°

Select a station to view its upcoming schedule:

Coming Up Next

2:00p
2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
5:00p
KOMU 8 News @ 5
5:30p
NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt
4:00p
Made in Hollywood
4:30p
Space Cowboys
7:00p
A History of Violence

Tonight's Schedule

7:00p
Little Big Shots
8:01p
The Carmichael Show
8:30p
Crowded
9:00p
Dateline NBC
7:00p
A History of Violence
9:00p
KOMU 8 News @ Nine on The CW
9:30p
Cougar Town