(Updated 2:20 p.m. Monday, Sept. 15)
Wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, Missouri’s top political donor, is giving $2.5 million to Grow Missouri – a prominent conservative political action committee – to help bankroll its campaign efforts this fall.
Those efforts will include helping the next speaker of the Missouri House, state Rep. John Diehl of Town and Country, as well as other Republicans running for several key legislative contests in the St. Louis area.
Grow Missouri treasurer Aaron Willard said one of the group’s first activities will be to aid Diehl’s new fall initiative, “100 Great Ideas for Missouri.”
In a statement earlier this week, Diehl said that his initiative “is an effort to encourage citizen involvement in state government by seeking new, innovative ideas from the people of Missouri about how to improve our state.”
People are encourage to post their ideas on a special website, 100GreatIdeasForMissouri.org, or attend events that Diehl is planning to hold this fall around the state. He’ll take over as speaker in January.
Grow Missouri plans to cover some of the costs of the events, help organize roundtable discussions, and pay for advertising to encourage the public to get involved, Willard said.
Willard said that Diehl did not ask for the financial help, but that Grow Missouri is getting involved because it supports his approach. Willard praised Diehl for seeking to "reach out to Missourians to try to get their feedback and reach consensus'' over various issues.
Even so, critics are already accusing Diehl of being too close to Sinquefield, who is a vocal supporter of some controversial proposals, such as getting rid of the state’s income tax and setting up some sort of school-voucher program for private schools.
State Democratic Party chairman Roy Temple sent out an email entitled "Let's Make A Diehl," and contended that the Sinquefield/Grow Missouri aid was "a sickening display of special-interest influence."
Diehl said in a interview that he welcomes financial help or assistance from any group. "I'm fine with anybody's help," he said. But he added, "I haven't solicited any money. I haven't received it. From what I'm planning, I don't need it."
Diehl said most of his events will be organized by members of the Missouri House when he comes to each district.
The Missouri Chamber praised Diehl's initiative, saying in a statement that it was "a great way to engage House members with the needs of Missourians." Chamber president/chief executive Daniel P. Mehan said the group will encourage its business members to take part.
Progress Missouri, a group aligned with some Democrats, unions and progressive groups, fired off a press release Friday entitled, “Rex Sinquefield Just Bought Himself A Speaker.”
The release included a disparaging picture of Diehl appearing to grovel before Sinquefield.
Progress Missouri was reacting to Grow Missouri’s initial press release Friday that appeared to imply that all $2.5 million was being spent on Diehl. Willard sought to clarify that was not the case.
Grow Missouri to be active in state Senate contests
Much of the money will be spent on other campaigns or ballot issues this fall, Willard said. He singled out two Republicans running for the state Senate who can expect to receive money from Grow Missouri:
- State Rep. Paul Wieland of Imperial, who is competing against a fellow legislator, Democrat Jeff Roorda of Barnhart, in the 22nd District.
- Lawyer Jay Ashcroft, who is challenging state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, in the 24th Senate District. Ashcroft is the son of John Ashcroft, who served as Missouri governor, senator and U.S. attorney general.
Grow Missouri also plans to get involved in the state Senate contest in the 10th District between Democrat Ed Schieffer of Troy and Republican Jeannie Riddle of Mokane. Willard said the group has yet to endorse either candidate.
Sinquefield has been Grow Missouri’s chief benefactor, giving $1.75 million to the group earlier this year. Its latest campaign report has included some smaller donors, such as $10,000 from outgoing state House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.
Grow Missouri has been particularly active in pressing for tax cuts. It campaigned for last spring’s override by the General Assembly of Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax cut measure that goes into effect in 2017. The group had campaigned against some Republican legislators who had sided with Nixon during an earlier tax-cut push in 2013.
Sinquefield’s hefty contributions to Grow Missouri reflect his general shift away from donating directly to candidates. He has given most of his money to political-action committees or issues campaigns. He was the primary donor to the effort to put on the November ball a proposal to eliminate teacher tenure.
Sinquefield has made a few exceptions for candidates, notably a recent $250,000 donation to state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, who is running for Missouri treasurer in 2016.
Sinquefield was also the largest individual donor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, a Democrat who received $200,000 from Sinquefield and his wife this year.
Right after the August primary, which Dooley lost, Sinquefield gave $100,000 to the Republican nominee for county executive, state Rep. Rick Stream of Kirkwood, who is competing against Democrat Steve Stenger in November.
Sinquefield gave $50,000 last spring to former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, a Republican now running for governor.
Over the weekend, Sinquefield also donated $1.2 million to the Missouri chapter of Club for Growth, which also has been lobbying legislators to cut taxes and regulations.