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Sinquefield donates $130,000 to state House GOP leaders

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 22, 2011 - Financier Rex Sinquefield, who has been putting much of his money lately into promoting causes over candidates, changed course this week.

He has written a check for $100,000 to the state House Republican Campaign Committee and another one for $30,000 to House speaker designate Tim Jones,  R-Eureka.

What's unclear is if the money is related to two causes close to Sinquefield's heart and pocketbook --initiative petitions that call for:

  • Replacing Missouri's income tax with a higher sales tax;
  • Ending state control of the St. Louis police department.

Sinquefield's contributions came the same day that the Missouri secretary of state's office approved for circulation an initiative petition dealing with the St. Louis police issue. Sinquefield has been the prime financial backer of the effort, launched by a group called "A Safer Missouri."

Earlier, the secretary of state's office has approved for circulation several versions of the proposal to replace the state's sales tax, also advanced by the Sinquefield-financed group, "Let Voters Decide."

(About 160,000 signatures from registered voters will be needed to get either of the proposed constitional amendments on a 2012 statewide ballot, under a formula that requires a specified minimum number of signatures from voters in at least six of the state's nine congressional districts.)

Sinquefield has been one of the state's most generous political donors for several years, but of late has generally preferred to direct much of his money to advance issues as opposed to candidates.

The question now is whether Sinquefield's donations to Jones and the state House's chief GOP campaign operation signal a possible shift in strategy to persuade the General Assembly to act on either or both proposals.

Current House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, previously has received at least $200,000 from Sinquefield. Tilley recently told the Beacon that he supported making a third attempt to persuade the state House to approve a measure ending the state's 150-year control of St. Louis' police force.

However, the St. Louis Police Officers Association most recently said it no longer supported the legislative route, and preferred using the initiative petition effort, citing talks it has had with the organizers crafting the wording.

Tilley is among the legislative leaders leaving office after the next session, because of term limits. Which might explain why Sinquefield is directing money to Jones, slated to take over as speaker in 2013, and the GOP's state House campaign arm.

As for the sales tax/income tax fight, Let Voters Decide has been running ads for weeks in southwest Missouri -- prime Republican country -- while also collecting signatures on one version of the initiative petition proposals. Critics contend that the effort also has run into resistance from the public.

Tilley has been receptive to the tax change, dubbed by some -- but not Let Voters Decide -- as the "Fair Tax." (Let Voters Decide calls it the "Missouri Taxpayer Relief Act.") Critics call it the "Everything Tax'' or the "Almost Everything Tax."

Tilley has yet to indicate whether he will press for a House vote during the coming session that begins Jan. 4.

Sinquefield and his allies contend that the tax change would attract more business interests, and thus create more jobs, because of the proposal's elimination of the state's individual income tax. Critics contend the plan would sharply reduce the state's income and force more budget cuts, while also increasing the state's sales tax and shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor, middle-class and those with large families.

Each side has issued studies they say back their point of view, and sought to discredit the assertions of their opposition.

Political activists and politicians may be wondering whether Sinquefield's new generous donations to the soon-to-be top Republican leader and his party's House campaign arm signal that more such contributions may soon follow, as part of an effort to woo legislators to pass the local-control and tax changes -- thus eliminating the need for petition drives, statewide votes and ad campaigns.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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