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Spence kicks off campaign for governor with $2 million donation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 2, 2011 - Amid talk of his past and potential new rivals, Republican gubernatorial candidate David Spence put his money where his mouth is on Wednesday, donating $2 million of his personal wealth into his campaign.

Spence's personal donation, which is not listed as a loan, comes as various better-known Republicans consider whether to challenge him for the nomination in the August 2012 primary. Spence's entry, made official Nov. 23, already forced out Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a fellow Republican who had been planning for more than two years for challenge the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Jay Nixon.

Spence's donation to himself appears to be the largest individual campaign donation in Missouri history.

Spence also collected this week $100,000 from developer William Koman and $25,000 from David Creston, executive vice president of Alpha Packaging, the firm that Spence bought in the 1980s. Spence remains involved in the company, although he sold most of the interest in Alpha to a private equity firm in 2010.

Spence is not the only self-funded candidate to be running for major office in Missouri, but his donation is the first large sum to be documented. Another wealthy businessman, John Brunner, is competing in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. But under federal campaign-finance rules, Brunner won't have to report any donations -- including those from his own pocket -- until January 2012.

The Missouri Democratic Party was quick to pounce on Spence's spending. "David Spence should explain to Missourians why he's giving his political campaign $2 million at the same time his bank refuses to repay its $42 million taxpayer bailout," said party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki. "Spence was a major stock holder in the bailed-out bank, so Missourians are left wondering whether their taxpayer money is now being spent on Spence's political campaign."

Spence also has taken some heat from tea party activists who object to his stint a few years ago on the board of Reliance Bank, which accepted $42 million in federal bailout aid in early 2009. (Spence has noted that he wasn't on the bank's 16-member holding company, which actually voted to take the aid, until several months after it was accepted.)

Reliance has since come under fire because it announced last February that it was postponing its first annual repayment of $2.2 million because of continued financial problems. Spence left the board soon afterward, saying he did so in part out of protest.

In any event, Spence's $2 million cash injection comes as speculation continues to swirl around state Auditor Tom Schweich and St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin, who currently is running for the 2nd District congressional seat. Both men have indicated that they are looking at the governor's race.

Sources say Schweich --who is close to retired U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo. -- has approached some major Republican donors, including businessman Sam Fox.

Martin, meanwhile, has been making some intriguing comments on radio. He also is getting encouragement from some fellow social conservatives, including state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay.

On Wednesday, Lembke posted an endorsement of Martin on a new Facebook page, "Draft Ed Martin for Governor."

Wrote Lembke: "We need a candidate for governor that embraces the constitution, knows the proper role of government and is not afraid to stand firm against the tyranny of the federal government. We need a leader at the top of our ticket that will take the fight to Nixon. This race is an uphill climb and will take a candidate that is seasoned, and has been around the block. I believe the right man for the job is ED MARTIN."

Spence has already been the target of anonymous online attacks, including one last weekend from an apparently short-lived group, "Missourians for a Conservative Governor," that blogger Eli Yokley tied to the Martin campaign.

Like Brunner, Spence also is dealing with the public disclosure of a 2004 arrest for drunken driving. Spence's driver's license was suspended for three months. A similar incident hasn't caused any political fallout for Brunner.

UPDATE: On Thursday, Spence received a $100,000 contribution from St. Louis businessman Robert O'Brien.

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