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Big bucks in race for Governor's Mansion

October 25, 1999
By: Michael Patrick Carney
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - As if the U.S. Supreme Court were to bring down a curtain that would cut off politcal money in Missouri, huge campaign contributions are flowing into the coffers of the state's leading candidates for governor -- contributions that the high court could block at anytime.

Leggett and Platt, Inc. has given $101,941 to GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Talent within the last three months. The manufacturer of bedding and furniture based in Carthage, Mo., also gave $210,000 to a fund controlled by the Republican National Committee. The RNC has since given Talent $600,000 from that fund, half of which was given within the last three months.

"I think when you have corporations like Leggett and Platt giving six figures to a candidate, that raises questions with voters," said Rich Martin, campaign manager for Bob Holden, Talent's Democratic opponent.

The Missouri race is important to the Republican Governor's Association, so they used the fund to get money to the GOP candidate, said Steve Boriss, a spokesman for the Talent campaign.

Boriss said the Leggett company has a history of generously supporting Republican candidates. No one affiliated with Talent's campaign had asked the Fortune 500 company to contribute money to the fund, he said.

Talent is not alone in the big money chase, however.

State campaign finance filings show that a small group of big donors --corporations and unions, doctors and lawyers, CEOs and homemakers -- is bankrolling the politics and dreams of both major-party candidates for Missouri's 2000 campaign for governor.

Talent, a St. Louis County Congressman, and Bob Holden, the Democratic state treasurer, reported raising a combined total of nearly $1.5 million in the three months prior to the end of September.

More than 60 percent of this total came from contributions larger than the unenforced $1,075 contribution limit currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Talent reported receipts of $1,026,681 and has $2.3 million in the bank. Holden raised $449,575 and has $2.2 million on hand.

By way of comparison, Elizabeth Dole, as part of her now-defunct campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, raised about the same amount of money as Talent.

In 1994, Missouri voters approved strict limits on political contributions that quickly were invalidated by a federal court.

State legislators then adopted a law that set limits on how much any one person or organization can contribute to a political candidate. Candidates for statewide office in 2000 are limited to $1,075.

The federal courts have blocked enforcement of the law.

Arguments about the constitutionality of that measure, and whether it violates the free-speech rights, were heard this fall by the U.S. Supreme Court. Until the high court reaches a decision, candidates are free to accept contributions of any size.

More than $713,000, or 69 percent of Talent's total contributions raised during third quarter 1999, exceeded the now-voluntary $1,075 contribution ceiling. For Holden, it was just under $200,000, or 44 percent of the total.

If the limit had been in place, and each donor gave the maximum amount, Talent would have raised about $400,000 overall.

Among Holden's largest contributions: $10,000 each from two union locals, the UAW and Pipefitters and $20,000 from a Kansas City property manager.

Echoing the state attorney general's argument before the high court, Martin said Holden supports a limit on the size of political contributions because large donations create the appearance of impropriety.

"Bob Holden entered this race saying: I am going to follow the limits the public wants," Martin said.

However, as records show, Holden strayed from that course.

"Jim Talent blew through the limits in the first reporting period," Martin said, rationalizing the flip-flop. "He owes that to his supporters. They want him to be competitive."

Talent and Holden previously received tens of thousands of dollars from Anheuser-Busch.

Both campaigns attributed the beer manufacturer's generosity to a commitment to the two-party political system.