Missouri one of the top states for election contributions this year

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By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – If you were to guess which states had the most campaign contributions in this election cycle, you’d probably name off California, Texas, Illinois and New York.

But would you have thought Missouri would rank right below them?

Contentious races and a lack of contribution limits have driven plenty of money into the Show Me State this year, as the 18th most populous state in the union ranks sixth in funds given to candidates and committees for the 2012 state elections with $45 million.

Wisconsin, a hot-button state with the recall election earlier this year, ranks fifth.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics, whose website FollowTheMoney.org tracks such spending, reports that Missouri is well ahead of most bordering states.  In the surrounding area, only Illinois tops Missouri with $52.6 million in donations.

The rest of Missouri’s neighbors:

  • Tennessee $12.9 million
    Arkansas $10.7 million
    Kentucky $7.5 million
    Iowa $5.7 million
    Kansas $3.4 million
    Nebraska $3.1 million

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that Missouri is one of only four states – along with Oregon, Utah and Virginia – to place no limits on contributions to candidates or political action committees.

Those other three states are well behind in election giving, however, with $14.6 million in Oregon, $7 million in Utah and $2 million in Virginia.

So there’s more at play than bottomless wallets.

Edwin Bender, executive director of NIMSP, said that Missouri is one of only six states with gubernatorial races this year, and also features a contentious ballot measure – at issue: whether to allow the state to move forward in creating a health-care exchange for its residents.

“One or two ballot measures can double the amount of money in the elections,” Bender said.

Nearly $20 million of the money raised in Missouri this year are just for the governor and lieutenant governor’s races, with incumbent

Gov. Jay Nixon (Official photo)

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon reaping almost half the total.

Bender said the effect of removing campaign contribution limits is overrated in its effect on influencing the amount of money in elections.

“The people who want to play at a large ideological level will give more money, but there aren’t a lot of people who hit the maximum,” he said. “Everybody else will play at a level they can afford. Disposable income is a rare commodity these days.”

Bulging campaign coffers are common in Missouri. The state ranked 13th in statewide contributions in 2010 with $63 million and eighth in 2008 with $100 million.

That latter year featured a governor’s race and five ballot measures, including making English the official state language and removing loss limits for gamblers at Missouri’s casinos.

Patrick Ishmael, a spokesman for the Show-Me Institute, said allowing people to donate unlimited amounts prevent infringement of free speech. He noted that putting caps on contributions tends to result in those funds being funneled to candidates in other ways, such as super PACs.

“It’s very difficult to keep money out of politics,” Ishmael said. “It’s better to drive it into a system we know that is transparent so people know where it’s coming from.”