This Is What Happens When a State Has No Contribution Limits

This Is What Happens When a State Has No Contribution Limits

Rex Sinquefield, left, shakes hands with Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder in 2011. (Photo: Flickr, Fired Up! Missouri)

The RNC platform released this week broadly calls for rolling back federal campaign-finance laws—going so far as to advocate for the right of donors to contribute unlimited amounts of money. “Limits on political speech serve only to protect the powerful and insulate incumbent officeholders. We support repeal of federal restrictions on political parties in McCain-Feingold, raising or repealing contribution limits,” the party’s platform states.

Curious what that may look like? Well, look no further than Missouri, one of the few states that places absolutely no limits on campaign contributions. Combine limitless political giving with a pivotal governor’s race, and you’ve got a recipe for a Wild West-style campaign season.

Missouri’s gubernatorial primary elections are just a few weeks away, and there are four candidates still vying for the GOP nomination. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that three of those four candidates have received more than $1 million from a single individual or family. It’s no wonder why the battle for the job is so heated: A Republican governor would be incredibly powerful. The legislature is currently controlled by Republicans, and with Democrats unlikely to pick up many seats this November, the GOP would have complete control of the state.

Missouri business owner and mega-donor David Humphreys and his sister Sarah Atkins each gave $500,000 to Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, the GOP gubernatorial frontrunner. Humphreys is a major opponent of organized labor and wants Missouri to pass right-to-work legislation that was vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon. In addition to his contribution to Kinder, who supports right-to-work laws, Humphreys and his family have given nearly $3 million to a PAC to target pro-union Republicans.

Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri speaker of the House, has received at least $3 million from St. Louis investor Rex Sinquefield, the state’s most powerful funder of conservative politics, or PACs that he funds. Over a two-month period last year, Sinquefield contributed $10,000 a week to Hanaway’s campaign. For many years, Sinquefield has funded the state’s conservative politicians, organizations, and causes to the tune of $40 million and is a staunch supporter of repealing all Missouri taxes.

Another GOP candidate’s campaign, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, got a last minute donation this week of nearly $2 million. The contribution came from SEALs for Truth, a Washington-based group set up last month: So far Greitens is the only candidate to receive any money from the organization.

What about the fourth GOP candidate, you ask? That would be former CEO John Brunner. While he hasn’t received millions from any single outside donor, Brunner himself has given or loaned at least $4.75 million of his own money to his campaign. It’s not his first rodeo—in 2012, he self-funded his unsuccessful $8 million bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

Missouri offers just a small taste of what Republicans Party leaders hope could happen nationwide. They see unlimited political contributions as an affirmation of free speech and a boon for political competition.

However, as the Missouri case illustrates, what ends up happening is that all the millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend small fortunes propping up the campaigns of their preferred candidates are drowning out the political voices of everyday citizens. Instead they work to advance policies, like repealing income and corporate taxes or making it harder for their workers to unionize, that disproportionately benefit the wealthy.