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Massive spending fuels contentious primaries in Missouri Congressional, auditor races

The openings created by the ambitions of two Republican members of Congress are producing hot undercard primaries for GOP voters in central and southwestern Missouri.

And political action committees, some with known names and others created just for these races, are flooding the 4th and 7th Congressional Districts with attack ads that indicate who the political professionals think are the biggest threats to their favorites.

The race for U.S. Senate in both parties has garnered the lion’s share of attention — and spending — with candidates and PACs pumping $47.7 million into the campaign.

In addition to the 4th and 7th Districts, Democrats are spending big to win in the St. Louis-focused 1st Districts, with all three races combined costing around $10.5 million.

The only other statewide race on the ballot besides the U.S. Senate race is the campaign for state auditor, where Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and state Rep. David Gregory are facing off in a race that has cost arouned $1.8 million so far.

Incumbents in two reliably Republican districts are running in the Senate primary: U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler in the 4th District and U.S. Rep. Billy Long in the 7th District. That brought out seven Republican candidates in the 4th and eight GOP contenders in the 7th.

‘Romney Republican’

In the 10-county 7th District, the Club for Growth has spent $1.7 million in all and almost $900,000 on television ads trying to brand former state Sen. Jay Wasson as a “Romney Republican.” They also attack him for sponsoring a bill to exempt dues and initiation fees at clubs, including country clubs, from state sales tax.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, is a particularly hated enemy of former President Donald Trump. Often at odds with Trump while he was in office, Romney, now a U.S. Senator from Utah, was one of seven Republicans to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Wasson’s candidate committee has spent $1.3 million, including $420,000 on television.

“What they are saying against him is not even true,” said Ron Richard, Wasson’s campaign treasurer and former Missouri House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem. “That is from when Romney ran against Barack Obama. Even I would vote for Romney.”

Wasson is  running for the GOP nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Billy Long, who is leaving the office to run for U.S. Senate. There are PACs working on Wasson’s behalf, attacking state Sen. Eric Burlison, the only other candidate with a substantial television effort, and Sen. Mike Moon.

Burlison has spent $477,000 on the campaign, including about $211,000 on television. Moon has spent about $127,000 total on his campaign.

A newly formed PAC, Conservative Americans, created July 11 with a Massachusetts address, has spent $547,485 on television ads and almost $1 million overall attacking Burlison and Moon over budget votes for the Department of Public Safety.

The mailings and ads claim they “Sided with Liberals. Betrayed Conservatives.” Burlison and Moon are members of the Senate conservative caucus, who tied up the chamber for weeks seeking to increase Republican representation in redistricting. Moon conducted a filibuster after he was punished for wearing overalls in the Senate.

And in a recent debate, Burlison noted he would side, if elected, with the most conservative members of Congress, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and had been endorsed by the House Freedom Caucus. 

The House Freedom Fund has spent $160,000 supporting Burlison.

Ratings rank him as one of “the most conservsativce members of the legislature,” and Burlison said the relationships he’s already built in Washington would make him immediately effective.

“By working as a team we are able to get things done,” he said.

Wasson, however, said in the debate that the endorsements that matter to him are the ones from sheriffs in the district and other local leaders.

“I am not going to be anybody’s puppet,” he said. “I am not going to join some club or let somebody play me.”

Along with Wasson, Burlison and Moon, the other candidates are Sam Alexander of Fair Play, a doctor who had his Polk County home drawn out of the district during redistricting; Alex Bryant of Nixa, a minister; Paul Walker of Springfield, a retired Army officer; Camille Lombardi-Olive of Galena who is making her fourth bid for Congress in the past four elections; and Audrey Richards of Kimberling City.

Wasson, who has had the most spent for and against him in any of the primaries, said he thinks the overall effect is bad for the election.

“When people are having trouble figuring out who to vote for, and confused about my election, it is as liable to drive turnout down as do anything else,” Wasson said. “It certainly doesn’t help me, I don’t think.”

4th District

In the 24-county 4th District, television spending and campaign budgets of the candidates are dwarfed by the spending of outside groups. Former Kansas City anchorman Mark Alford, who has spent $150,000 on television and $375,000 overall, is being helped by a PAC formed in March called American Dream Federal Action that has spent almost $320,000 on television ads in the Kansas City market.

State Sen. Rick Brattin is the only other candidate in the race with independent spending either for or against his candidacy. The School Freedom Fund, funded by Pennsylvania financier Jeff Yas, has spent $734,000 on television ads backing Brattin and the same Conservative Americans PAC working in the 7th District has spent almost $500,000 on television ads in Kansas City opposing Brattin.

Bratttin has spent $469,000 through his campaign committee and $117,000 on television ads.

The only other candidate approaching a six-digit television buy is Kalena Bruce, a Stockton farmer and accountant backed by Gov. Mike Parson. Bruce has spent $345,000 on her campaign, including $99,625 on television ads.

The other candidates are former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks, former St. Louis Blues player Jim “Soupy” Campbell, retired Navy SEAL Bill Irwin and Kyle Stonner LaBrue.

Burks and Irwin have also made small television buys.

‘No more lying’

The dust-up in the auditor’s race is over the ads run by PACs associated with each candidate. Fitzpatrick, by Missouri law, is allowed to fundraise jointly with Missourians for a Responsible Budget, but cannot coordinate on how the money is spent. The same is true for Show Me Growth, associated with Gregory.

In a July 26 letter to KOLR, the CBS affiliate in Springfield, Jessica Furst Johnston, attorney for Gregory, demanded that the station remove an ad by Missourians for a Responsible Budget. The station put the letter in its Federal Communications Commission files but did not cancel the contract.

“The advertisement entitled ‘No More Lying,’ which is airing on your station, levels false accusations and personal attacks against David Gregory,” Johnston wrote. “Specifically, the advertisement baselessly claims that Mr. Gregory is not an auditor, and calls Mr Gregory a ‘liar’ for referring to himself as an auditor.”

Before making the demand, the letter states the reasons why it believes Gregory could sue if the ad is not removed from the air.

Fitzpatrick’s campaign consulting firm, in a July 21 email to television stations in Springfield and Columbia, asked that an ad from Show Me Growth PAC be removed from the air.

The ad’s claim that “Scott Fitzpatrick voted to let Communist China buy up vast sections of our Missouri Farm Land” is false, Brian Dumas, CEO of Victory Enterprises, wrote to the stations. The bill in question, Dumas wrote, did not pass, and, even if it had, the provision allowing foreign ownership of farm land was existing law.

“We would request that you cease broadcasting the false advertisement,” Dumas wrote.

This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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