House and Senate races rake in millions of dollars

Sunday, October 27, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With political control of the Missouri Legislature at stake, candidates for the House and Senate had raised more than $7.2 million heading into the final weeks before the Nov. 5 general elections.

That fund-raising figure is likely to balloon Monday, as candidates file their final round of finance reports before the election.

And even Monday's figures are likely to underestimate the true amount of money going toward legislative campaigns. They won't include all the money raised for August's party primary elections, or the considerable sum spent on behalf of candidates by the Democratic and Republican parties.

This year's legislative fund-raising is "considerably higher than typical," said state Democratic Party executive director Mike Kelley, because "all the marbles are up for grabs this year."

"You've got unprecedented costs for elections coupled with unprecedented opportunities for both parties," Kelley said.

Democrats hold an 85-75 majority in the House with three vacancies. Republicans hold a 17-16 majority in the Senate, where there is one vacancy.

Newcomers' edge

Those narrow margins alone make for highly contested races. But this year, the onset of term limits and retirements have forced open half of the House seats and one-third of the Senate seats.

Newcomers gained an additional edge because districts have been redrawn based on the 2000 census, meaning many remaining incumbents have lost some of their former base and must campaign in new areas.

"This is a campaign like no other, and certainly I think the money numbers reflect that," said state Republican Party spokesman Scott Baker.

Campaign finance reports reviewed by The Associated Press showed that the 30 state Senate candidates had raised a total of $2.25 million while 305 House candidates had raised another $5 million. Six House candidates did not file their quarterly reports and could be penalized by the Ethics Commission.

The reports cover fund raising through Sept. 30 for the general election, but do not include additional money raised for the August primaries. New finance reports due Monday are to cover general election fund raising as of last Thursday.

By comparison, Missouri legislative candidates raised a total of $11.4 million for the 2000 primary and general elections and $12.5 million for the 1998 elections, according to the National Institute on Money and State Politics.

This year's final legislative fund-raising figures may be similar -- but not necessarily much larger -- than the previous two elections, said Ed Bender, research director for the Helena, Mont.-based institute.

Sense of competition

He said it may seem like large amounts of money are being raised this year because of heavy spending in some high-profile races.

"You probably do have an increased sense of competition," Bender said. "People are feeling a little more intense about their campaigns, which may translate into a sense that we're raising more money. But it may just be them being a little more emphatic about it."

Yet party officials insist fund-raising is ahead of a typical pace.

Kelley said he wouldn't be surprised if Republican Rep. Charlie Shields and Democrat Rep. Glenda Kelly each raised over $1 million in their race for a St. Joseph area state Senate seat forced open by term limits.

Shields led all candidates in fund raising through Sept. 30, reporting $250,000 of donations for the general election alone. Kelly reported raising $140,000 in the same period.

Some candidates with full war chests have shared their money with those in tighter races.

Republican and Democratic officials say they are forced into high-dollar campaigns in order to keep up with the other party.

Supporters of campaign finance restrictions are holding out hope that this year's elections could aid their cause for strict limits or public financing of state campaigns.

"I think there will be lots of legislators, and maybe some new ones, who have just had it ... trying to be good legislators and trying to raising thousands and thousands of dollars to run and run and run again," said Laura Friedman, executive director of the Clayton-based Missouri Alliance for Campaign Reform.

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