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Power Players: By-the-numbers look at financing 2012 election

In Elections

6:46 am on Mon, 01.14.13

Former U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., is frequently credited with the phrase "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."

While Missouri’s campaign finance system hasn’t ventured into 10-figure territory, the state is home to some particularly active -- and generous --  donors, making donations of "real money" commonplace.

The latest chapter of the Beacon's Power Players series, an examination of Missouri's biggest donors, updates the series' database with spending through the 2012 election.

Some findings – such as how retired financer Rex Sinquefield gave the most money to candidates in causes over the latest election cycle – aren’t necessarily surprising. He's been on top of the Power Players list since it began.

But the sheer amount of money donated either to Missouri-based campaigns or by Missourians to federal campaigns may give pause to followers of the state's political scene. For example, almost $87 million in donations of more than $5,000 was contributed to Missouri-based candidates, committees and campaigns in 2011-12. That figure, large as it is, does not include single contributions of a lesser amount or contributions to federal candidates.

A bit of housekeeping: The information was tabulated by evaluating the most recent available state and federal campaign finance data from the beginning of January 2011 to the start of December 2012. These figures include all donations to Missouri-based contests, as well as select contributions by Missouri-based donors to federal candidates or committees.

The Beacon and the Investigative News Network analyzed data from the Missouri Ethics Commission, followthemoney.org, and OpenSecrets.org to figure out the state's biggest individual donors. The Power Players database includes donations from Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 1, 2012.

By the numbers 

Because Missouri doesn’t have campaign finance limits, competitive races for Missouri-based offices can become very expensive very quickly. And that’s just counting donations of more than $5,000, which are tabulated in a special section on the Missouri Ethics Commission website.

  • Total amount of donations of more than $5,000 to all Missouri campaign committees from January 2011 through November 2012: $86,889,127.27
  • Number of donations of $5,000 or more to all Missouri campaign committees during that same time period: About 2,765.
  • Total amount of donations of $5,000 or more to candidates or ballot initiatives from January 2011 through November 2012: $61,478,722.79
  • Average amount of donation of $5,000 or more during the 2011 to 2012 campaign to candidates or ballot initiatives: $32,597.41
  • Largest donation to a ballot initiative in the 2011 to 2012 campaign, not including self-funding: $1,725,000 from the American Cancer Society to the failed initiative to increase the cigarette tax.
  • Largest donation to a Missouri-based candidate that doesn’t include self-funding: $1,100,000 from the Republican Governors Association to Dave Spence, the unsuccessful GOP candidate for governor.

Nixon vs. Spence

Dave Spence
Dave Spence
Jay Nixon
Jay Nixon

Without question, the most expensive contest for a Missouri office -- not including a U.S. Senate or U.S. House seat -- was the battle for governor.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon ended up setting a fundraising record for a gubernatorial candidate, while GOP nominee Dave Spence upped the ante by spending more than $6.5 million of his own money in his campaign.

Despite Spence's sizeable investment, Nixon comfortably won another term in office, making him the fourth governor in the state's history to win a second consecutive term.

  • Total amount of donations of more than $5,000 to Nixon or Spence from 2011 to 2012, including Spence's contributions to himself: $18,238,718.66
  • Total amount given by the Democratic Governors Association or Republican Governors Association to Nixon and Spence: $4,120,000
  • Total amount that Spence donated or loaned to his campaign: $6,600,000
  • Average spent per vote for Spence: $9.72
  • Spence's ranking on Power Players list if self-funding were included: 2nd
  • Number of donations of more than $5,000 to Nixon: 326
  • Total amount of those 326 donations: $7,950,950.88

Down the ballot

Although the races for U.S. Senate and the governor may have overshadowed Missouri’s down-ballot offices, they were still expensive affairs.

  • Down-ballot candidate with the most donations of $5,000 or more: Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, with $3,146,500.21
  • Down-ballot candidate with the fewest donations of more than $5,000: Democrat Susan Montee with $274,578.77. Montee, a former auditor, lost her bid against incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
  • Victorious statewide candidate with the fewest donations of more than $5,000 from 2011 to 2012: Treasurer Clint Zweifel, who took $331,828.84. That’s about $3,000 less than state Rep. Jason Kander, a Kansas City Democrat who won the open race for secretary of state.
  • State legislative candidate with the most donations of more than $5,000: State Sen.-elect Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican, who took in $478,842.17 from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2012.
  • Total amount of donations of more than $5,000 taken by all major party statewide nominees, including Spence and Nixon: $27,315,676.02

'Super' donations

While Missouri’s biggest donors tended to give more money in state-based contests, Super PACs allowed for some fairly hefty donations.

Some contributors managed to make the Power Players list because of donations to the Super PACs, third-party groups that can accept contributions of unlimited size and spend them on expenditures such as ads.

Largest single donation to a Super PAC: Stanley Herzog, who gave $1 million to the pro-Mitt Romney group Restore Our Future.

Other notable donations to Super PACs:

  • Sinquefield gave $1 million to Now or Never PAC, a Super PAC initially set up to help Republican Sarah Steelman’s U.S. Senate bid. It ultimately contributed to congressional races across the country, with limited success.
  • TAMKO executive David Humphrey gave $500,000 to Restore Our Future. His sister – Arlington, Va., resident Sarah Humphreys Atkins – also chipped in $500,000 to the Super PAC.
  • Harbor Group Founder Sam Fox gave $190,000 to Restore Our Future, as well as $75,000 to two Super PACs helping U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. His wife Marilyn Fox also gave $50,000 to Restore Our Future.
  • James B. Nutter, Sr., gave $50,000 to Priorities USA, a Super PAC helping President Barack Obama. That may be one of the largest donations given by a Missouri-based donor to a Super PAC.
  • August Busch III, former president of Anheuser-Busch, gave $270,000 to Restore Our Future as well as $40,000 to Now or Never PAC.
  • Enterprise Rent-a-Car founder Jack Taylor gave about $325,000 to Restore Our Future, which propelled him onto the Power Players list.

Rex Deconstructed

Sinquefield consistently has ranked as one of Missouri’s top political donors since returning to the Show Me state in the 2000s. He widened the gap between the others on the Power Players list with his support of several ballot initiatives, including an unsuccessful effort to replace the state’s income tax with an expanded sales tax.

Sinquefield may just be getting warmed up. He told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year: "When Dimensional gets sold… that's when I'll really be able to give money away." Sinquefield was referring to Dimensional Fund Advisors, the company where he made his fortune.

  • Total amount given during the 2012 campaign: 103 donations to state and federal candidates worth roughly $8,496,439.
  • Sinquefield’s winning percentage:  From 2011 to 2012, Sinquefield supported 23 candidates or ballot initiatives that won and 16 that lost. He also gave money to candidates that either didn’t run for election in 2012 or aren’t running until 2014. His winning percentage also doesn't take into account ballot items he contributed to that didn't make it to voters. That gives Sinquefield a roughly 59 percent winning percentage. That number would fluctuate further when taking into account money he gave to the House Republican Campaign Committee, Majority Fund Inc. or Missouri Club for Growth. Those groups either directly or indirectly supported GOP legislative candidates, many of whom won.
  • Sinquefield’s largest single donation since 2011: $1.3 million to Let Voters Decide, a ballot item to phase out the state's income tax. The measure did not make the ballot in 2012.
  • Average amount of Sinquefield's donations in the 2012 campaign$77,948.98
  • Total amount of Sinquefield’s donations to Missouri and federal campaigns since 2008: $23,165,130

All in the family 

Few families made as big of a financial impact than the Humphreys. The Joplin-based family runs TAMKO Building Products and are prolific donors to Republican candidates around the country.

The results of the Humphreys' giving were decidedly mixed. When they gave to GOP candidates in heavily Republican districts, they did well. In addition, their donations almost assuredly helped former state Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, win a contested state Senate primary.

Still, many of the statewide candidates the Humphreys supported lost. And David Humphreys and Sarah Humphreys Atkins also provided big donations to Super PACs assisting ultimately unsuccessful candidates.

Interestingly, David Humphreys donated $25,000 to Nixon's committee near the end of 2012. It was the first major donation he's given to a Democrat in years.

  • Total amount from David Humphreys, Deborah Humphreys, Ethelmae Humphreys and Sarah Jane Atkins to Missouri and federal contests from 2011 to 2012: $3,976,700
  • Largest donation from the four from 2011 to 2012: Both David Humphreys and Sarah Atkins gave Restore Our Future -- a Super PAC  helping Romney -- $500,000 donations.
  • David Humphreys’ winning percentage: 57 percent
  • Ethelmae Humphreys’ winning percentage: 45 percent
  • Sarah Jane Atkins’ winning percentage: 60 percent

Double dipping

Some big donors gave to competing candidates. While certain switches were typically minor, some about-turns made headline news:

  • In the treasurer's race, William Danforth gave the Democratic incumbent, Zweifel $5,500 and Cole McNary, the GOP candidate, $1,000. 
  • Taylor gave $1,000 to Zweifel and $5,000 to McNary.
  • William Danforth gave $3,500 to U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's campaign and $5,000 to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., during the 2012 cycle.
  • Sinquefield gave nearly $335,000 to Koster's campaign in 2011 and 2012. Late in the election cycle, Sinquefield gave several donations totaling $25,000 to Koster's opponent -- Republican attorney Ed Martin.
  • Sinquefield also ended up giving donations to three different GOP presidential candidates. He gave $2,500 to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, $2,500 to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and $5,000 to eventual GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
  • The most high-profile defection came during the GOP primary for lieutenant governor. Sinquefield and the Humphreys family had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kinder in 2011 when he was considering a challenge to Nixon. But they made a very public decision to support Kinder's main Republican opponent, state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah. 

Sinquefield gave $205,544 to Kinder and $387,305 to Lager during the cycle. David Humphreys, Ethelmae Humphreys and Sarah Humphreys Atkins gave $275,000 to Kinder and $760,000 to Lager during the same time period. Kinder ended up besting Lager in the GOP primary and defeating Montee in the general election.

Victory and defeat

  • Power Player with the best winning percentage: James and Virginia Stowers gave only two donations during the 2011-2012 campaign. Both candidates -- Koster and McCaskill -- won their elections.
  • “Power Player” with the worst winning percentage: August Busch III had a 24 percent percentage.
  • Winning candidate with the most money from "Power Players": Kinder, who netted $688,794 from 10 members of the list from 2011 to 2012.
  • Losing candidate with the most money from "Power Players": Lager, who received $1,047,305 from four members of the list during that same time period.

Rex Sinquefield, William Danforth, Jack Taylor, Sam Fox, Marilyn Fox and Roy Pfautch are donors to the St. Louis Beacon.

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