Missouri’s four Republican candidates for governor each claim to be shocked by the emergence of a new political group, LG PAC, that has launched a $1 million TV ad campaign this week.
That spending is more than all of the state’s gubernatorial candidates have spent on TV so far -- combined. LG PAC also is just the latest of a series of groups, with unknown donors, that are spending money to aid or attack Missouri’s statewide candidates.
LG’s first ad – apparently running statewide -- targets GOP contender John Brunner, by painting him as a tax dodger. His campaign says the ad contains distortions and some lies.
In a televised debate Monday night with his rivals, Brunner blasted the ad as “malicious and maligning my character.”
What’s frustrating for Brunner, and apparently the other candidates, is that they don’t know who is behind the ad campaign and who’s paying for it.
And it’s unlikely that they will find out before the Aug. 2 primary.
The group’s website indicates that more ad attacks will follow, but likely aimed at GOP candidates Eric Greitens and Catherine Hanaway.
The LG PAC appears to support Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, (possibly explaining the “LG” part of the title). But Kinder’s staff denies any involvement or knowledge.
On its website, the group declares, “We support candidates with real results.” It also features a photo of Kinder and a headline about his opposition to a federal policy regarding transgender individuals’ use of bathrooms.
Under photos of Greitens, Hanaway and Brunner, the site states, somewhat ominously, “coming soon.”
In a statement, Brunner’s campaign said, “It’s no surprise that John Brunner is being targeted by special interests with flat-out lies. John is the only candidate who can't be bought and who is not looking to start, extend or jump-start a political career….”
Brunner appears to be the wealthiest of Missouri’s candidates for governor and has so far self-funded much of his campaign. The attack ad appears to be referring, in part, to late tax payments that Brunner acknowledged during his unsuccessful 2012 bid for the U.S. Senate.
Who’s paying? Hard to find out
LG PAC’s paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission identifies the group’s treasurer as Richard Monsees, with an address listed in Prairie Village, Kansas. But Monsees’ listed phone number repeatedly disconnected after the second ring.
LG identifies itself on the FEC website as a “527,’’ referring to a provision of the IRS code. As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision, 527s can now advocate for or against a candidate.
Groups known as “527s” do have to identify their donors on paperwork submitted periodically to the IRS, but it doesn’t appear that this group will need to file such a report until after the August primary.
A similar group increasingly active in Missouri is American Bridge 21st Century PAC. It’s a “SuperPAC,” a relatively new group formed since the Citizens United decision. SuperPACs can spend unlimited sums, but they cannot donate directly to candidates and cannot coordinate their spending.
SuperPACs also are required to report their donations to the FEC, but only annually during non-election years. During 2016, the groups must report their donors monthly.
In Missouri, American Bridge is targeting Sen. Roy Blunt, but so far its jabs have largely come via disparaging press releases. This week, for example, the group sent out a missive entitled “Will Senator Roy Blunt Join Paul Ryan In Calling Out Trump's Racism?”
Some donors will remain secret
But Blunt can expect to soon get some hefty help from “One Nation,’’ a group founded by conservative operative Karl Rove.
“One Nation’’ is a 501C4, referring to a nonprofit provision in the IRS code that allows political activity, although such activity is supposed to represent less than half of what such nonprofit groups do. Such groups do not have to identify their donors – a key reason they are becoming a growing force in national and state politics.
This week, “One Nation’’ announced that it planned to spent at least $1.5 million in Missouri as part of a broader spending blitz to aid GOP members of the U.S. Senate deemed vulnerable. Blunt is considered one of them.
“One Nation’’ ran ads on Blunt's behalf last year. This year, the group is expected to direct at least some of its firepower at his chief Democratic rival, Jason Kander, now Missouri secretary of state.
State Democratic Party spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz said, "Anonymous groups like One Nation are getting ready to pour millions of dollars of outside money into the race because they're coming to realize just how vulnerable Senator Blunt really is.”
For weeks, another 501C4 already has been taking an increasingly active role in the state’s contest for governor. It’s Missouri Rising, an arm of the conservative national group “America Rising,” which is a SuperPAC and does have to report its donors monthly.
But America Rising also has a nonprofit arm that does not identify its donors. And neither will Missouri Rising.
Spokesman Jeremy Adler explained, “We have been tracking Chris Koster's public events, recording his statements and using our opposition research to point out any inaccuracies. In addition to our comprehensive opposition research, we have already had several paid media hits targeting him.”
Those hits include digital ads that were specially targeted to hit certain social-media accounts. For example, anyone near Busch Stadium who logged into their Twitter or Facebook accounts during the Cardinals’ season opener in April would see an anti-Koster attack ad. A similar tactic was used last month during an event in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium.
Adler said, “We are aggressively making sure that Koster continues to face pushback on his claims and record, despite him not having a competitive primary while the GOP candidates battle it out.”
Koster’s campaign criticizes the group’s actions, but acknowledges that not much can be done to stop it. State Democratic Party spokesman David Turner referred to Missouri Rising as "a shady outside interest group...coming from DC."
Turner contended that Koster is being targeted, in part, because he has been among a handful of politicians in Jefferson City, of both parties, who have called for the General Assemblyto pass legislation that would require 501C4s or any other independent group to identify their donors if they get involved in Missouri campaigns. So far, legislators have declined to act.
Now candidates from both parties are preparing for more attack ads from such groups, and can only speculate who is bankrolling them.