A fundraising quarter before an election is when Missouri politics starts getting real.
And by “getting real,” I mean getting "real expensive.”
Tuesday is the deadline for campaign committees to turn in their fund-raising reports. These are the documents showing how much money political candidates and ballot initiatives have for the final push to the Aug. 5 primary. They can also reveal how much cash is being shelled out in competitive primaries.
And if the relatively sleepy mid-term election cycle doesn't grab you, Tuesday’s reports will also show how serious statewide aspirants are getting as they march to the 2016 election.
We’ll have the full breakdown of the political dollar and cents tomorrow. But here are five things to look for when the deluge of numbers hit the Missouri Ethics Commission’s website.
How much money will the proponents and the opponents of the transportation tax have for the final push?
The August vote on a 0.75 percent sales tax increase for transportation may be the main event of this primary election.
The proponents appear to be bringing their ‘A’ game when it comes to fundraising. In the past year, a group called Missourians for Safe Transportation and Jobs raked in more than $2.75 million in donations of $5,000 or more. Most of that money is coming from contractors and labor unions that would benefit from the roughly $5.4 billion worth of projects over the next decade.
By contrast, the committee opposing the tax – Missourians for Transportation Solutions – isn’t expected to raise a lot of money. While the group has surrogates to speak out against the measure, it likely won’t be able to counter what is likely to be a statewide media blitz.
It will be worth examining how much each committee has in the bank. But it’s entirely possible that this may be a contest where Missouri voters – who have balked at tax increases in the past – may need a lot more than ads to convince them to vote "yes."
How much money will the other ballot initiative committees receive?
While the transportation tax may be soaking up the money, it isn’t the only ballot initiative up for a vote this August.
Missourians will vote on four ballot measures, including constitutional amendments on gun rights and the “right to farm.” Also up for a vote are measures authorizing a veterans’ lottery ticket and protecting electronic communications from unreasonable search and seizures.
With the exception of the veterans’ lottery ticket measure, three of those initiatives have campaign committees spending money either for or against. Tuesday’s reports will let us know what kind of money those groups can spend.
If committees opposed to the “right to farm” or gun rights amendments have the cash to spend, it could be significant. Ballot initiatives in Missouri are generally more likely to fail if they have organized opposition spending money.
How much have St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and Councilman Steve Stenger spent thus far in their Democratic primary?
As expected, Dooley and Stenger started running ads relatively early in the expensive St. Louis television market. And Tuesday’s reports will showcase how much each candidate has spent to beat the tar out of one another.
Political observers may not be the only people looking at Dooley's and Stenger’s bottom lines. The winner of the Republican primary may benefit from the bitter fight between the Democrats, especially if neither candidate has much money left on Aug. 5.
Former state Sen. Jane Cunningham -- a Chesterfield Republican who supports House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood -- said the winner of the Democratic primary is "going to be exhausted and have no money." She also said that Stenger and Dooley will have "a lot of negatives against their name because they’re truly doing it to each other."
"So Rick is going to be fresh. He’s going to have the donations," Cunningham. "And I think he’s going to have a really good chance to win this thing, better than I have seen ever."
Still, Tuesday’s reports will also give an indication on whether Stream or Green Park Alderman Tony Pousosa is raising enough money for a fall campaign. The threshold for competitiveness is fairly high, as Bill Corrigan – the GOP’s 2010 candidate – spent around $2.5 million in his bid against Dooley.
What’s the status of some state Senate contenders?
At least two state Senate primaries are of consequence. The first is among three Republicans angling to take on state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, in the St. Louis County-based 24th Senate District. The other is a battle among Republicans in the St. Charles-based 2nd District.
Because no Democratic candidate is running in the 2nd District, Tuesday’s reports will show how much Bob Onder, Chuck Gatschenberger and Vicki Schneider have for the final push of the campaign. And they’ll showcase how much cash Jay Ashcroft, Jack Spooner and Robb Hicks have been raising – and spending – for the right to take on Schupp.
Several contests – including the “Battle for JeffCo” between state Reps. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, and Paul Wieland, R-Imperial – won’t be decided until November. Tuesday’s reports should provide some indication how much the state’s respective political parties are willing to invest in those contests.
How are the 2016 contenders doing?
The 2014 election cycle is as bare-bones as it gets in Missouri politics. But it’s a different story for 2016.
Several candidates have already announced – or, in Attorney General Chris Koster’s case, effectively announced – for statewide office. In the past couple of weeks, state Sens. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, have staked claims on treasurer and secretary of state. Other Republicans are gearing up to run for governor or attorney general.
While it’s worth keeping tabs on these candidates even this far into the future, two years is an eternity in Missouri politics. If a big war chest at this point in time mattered, then reporters would be referring to “Lt. Gov. Steve Tilley” instead of “prominent lobbyist Steve Tilley.”
Still, statewide races are expensive. So it’ll be intriguing to see which 2016 contenders are stocking up for the long haul and which ones are taking their sweet time.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads about Missouri politics.