Power Players: Missouri's 17 largest political donors from 2008 to 2013

"Show me the money" just might be the unofficial slogan for Missouri political campaigns -- by candidates, political parties and political action committees. Since 2008, individuals in the Show Me State can contribute as much money as they want to state candidates, party committees and third-party political action committees. They can also give as much as they want to ballot initiatives, which was the case even when the state had contribution limits.

The Beacon and the Investigative News Network have analyzed data from the Missouri Ethics Commission, followthemoney.org and OpenSecrets.org to determine the biggest donors from 2008 and 2013. We intend to continue adding data to this project for the foreseeable future.

1

Rex Sinquefield, Westphalia, MO

Retired financier

Since moving back to Missouri in the mid-2000s, Sinquefield has emerged as one of the state’s most high-profile – and controversial – donors. He’s been especially vocal about changing the state’s education system, including eliminating teacher tenure and establishing tax credits for private schools. He’s also supported getting rid of the state’s income tax and replacing it with an expanded sales tax, as well repealing existing earnings’ taxes in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Sinquefield's patterns of giving have changed over time.

In 2008, for instance, Sinquefield mostly gave to 100 political action committees set up after the Missouri Supreme Court threw out campaign contribution limits. Those PACs then gave to candidates from both political parties.

In 2009, Sinquefield moved toward giving directly to candidates: $75,000 to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, $100,000 to then-House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville; and $50,000 to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

He continued though to give to committees, including organizations such as the House Republican Campaign Committee and Majority Fund, Inc. that help elect GOP legislative candidates.

And in 2010, while Sinquefield still gave to individual candidates and third-party committees, the lion’s share of donations went toward a committee to require a vote on earnings taxes in Kansas City and St. Louis. Sinquefield ended up donating $11.2 million to the successful ballot initiative. In 2011 and 2012, Sinquefield's donation gravitated primarily toward ballot initiatives to eliminate the state's income tax and end state control of the St. Louis Police Department.

Travis Brown, a lobbyist whose client list includes Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, said in a telephone interview that donation patterns have shifted more toward ballot initiatives than individual candidates. That doesn't mean he's stopped though: Sinquefield has given contributions to a number of candidates – including Attorney General Chris Koster, House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, and Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah – in addition to third-party organizations and ballot initiatives.

“We also contribute to organizations whose job it is to evaluate that more in detail,” Brown said. “So [earlier in 2012] you saw $500,000 go to Missouri Club for Growth specifically for evaluating, scoring and surveying all those issues such as government spending, on efficiency of government and on education and economic freedom. That’s a natural evolution of his giving.”

Brown said that Sinquefield tried to stop a ballot initiative to reinstate campaign finance limits, an endeavor pushed by former Missouri Democratic Party chairwoman Susan Montee. That suit became moot, he said, when no signatures were submitted to put the measure up for a public vote.

While Sinquefield has received plenty of praise for his non-political contributions to various philanthropic causes, he’s received criticism for his work in the political realm. Education groups have balked at many of his educational initiatives, especially efforts to use state tax credits for private schools. He also sparked a backlash last year when he referenced a column in a central Missouri newspaper that seemed to suggest that the Ku Klux Klan created public education to harm black children. He later apologized for those remarks.

(Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield are donors to the St. Louis Beacon.)

Notable donations from 2011 to 2012:

  • $2,524,000 for a ballot initiative aimed at eliminating the state’s income tax and replacing it with a beefed-up sales tax. That initiative didn’t end up making the ballot in 2012, but another one to end state control of the St. Louis Police Department did. Sinquefield gave $1,785,000 to a committee aimed at passing that initiative.
  • About $1,000,000 to the Now or Never PAC, a Super PAC originally formed to help Republican Sarah Steelman's unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid. It was later used to assist federal candidates across the United States, including U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's failed U.S. Senate bid against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
  • About $660,005 to Missouri Club for Growth PAC, which was then used to either support or oppose state legislative candidates. While the PAC primarily spent money in GOP primaries, it also got involved in the Democratic primary for 5th District Senate seat by sending out negative mailers against Sen. Robin Wright-Jones and Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis. That likely assisted Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat who won the primary.
  • Roughly $387,305 to state Sen. Brad Lager, a Savannah Republican who unsuccessfully challenge Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. Sinqueifeld had previously gave Kinder’s campaign committees about $306,544 since 2008.
  • Roughly $400,000 to House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, a Willard Republican running for secretary of state. During the election cycle, he gave $5,000 apiece to state Treasurer Clint Zweifel and his Republican opponent Cole McNary. Sinquefield also gave $85,000 to Koster, a total that doesn’t include the $250,000 donation he sent after September 1.

Notable donations from 2008 to 2010:

  • $1.49 million to a several political action committees in 2007 set up after campaign finance limits were restored. The PACs were set up to circumvent donation limits by splitting big contributions among numerous political action committees. Sinquefield gave about $652,000 to these PACs in 2007.
  • Donations from these PACs went to candidates and causes for both political parties. For example, then-state Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, received tens of thousands of dollars from the PACs during his successful bid for attorney general.
  • About $11.2 million to Let Voters Decide, a committee to support a ballot initiative prompting a vote on earnings taxes every five years.
  • Roughly $130,010 to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s re-election campaign and nearly $75,000 to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. He also gave $30,000 to St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed About $200,000 to House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.
  • $74,100 to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Total contributions: $28,083,480

576 donations: 180 to candidates and 396 to committees

List of contributions

Source: Contribution data from the Missouri Ethics Commission, followthemoney.org and OpenSecrets.org. If you see a duplicated donation or know of a donation we've missed, e-mail Jason Rosenbaum at jrosenbaum@stlbeacon.org.