The campaign against The Four: a campaign too far?

We’ve taken to calling them The Four.

The Four will tell you that the Club for Growth isn’t a club.

It’s a bludgeon.

Four State Representatives have survived last Tuesday’s primary elections beaten but not defeated.  They say there is no doubt what billionaire GOP supporter Rex Sinquefield tried to do:  he tried to buy four seats in the Missouri House of Representatives.  And all of them say what’s good for Rex Sinquefield is NOT good for Missouri.  At least not in this case.

They don’t condemn Sinquefield so much as they blame the political action committee that lives on his money, the Club for Growth.  They say Sinquefield should get rid of those who organized campaigns against them that were laced with distortions and wild accusations. “Deceit and untruths,” as Rep. Jeff Messenger put it.

Sinquefield wanted The Four to help House Republicans overturn Governor Nixon’s veto of a tax bill favorable to him last year.  When they voted to uphold the veto they were immediately threatened with retaliation in the form of well-funded opponents in the Republican primary.  In the end, more than one-half million dollars was spent trying to defeat them.

And it didn’t work.  All four won, three by substantial margins.

Rep. Paul Fitzwater of Potosi got almost 79% of the vote.  Rep. Nate Walker of Kirksville got almost 59%.  Rep. Lyle Rowland of Cedar Creek got better than 57%.  The only close race was Republic Representative Jeff Messenger, who got almost 52%.

Messenger doesn’t appreciate the kind of campaign launched against him.  He says his people “didn’t want the type of politics coming out St. Louis in our district.”  And Rowland is even stronger, citing the old statement that   “figures don’t lie but liars figure.”   He says that’s what happened in the campaign he won last Tuesday.

All four say they won because they stood up to outsiders thinking they could buy their seats in the House.  Messenger says the campaigns emphasize the need for campaign finance reform, observing, “It’s not right for an organization to come out and try to sway an election, and that seems to be all based around how much money can be generated.”  Fitzwater thinks the elections pointedly emphasize the dangers of a well-heeled special interest getting control of Missouri’s political system. “If we don’t stand up to these special interest groups like this and let them run over us like they’ve been trying to do, why do we have a legislature? Why do we have it?”

Walker wondered if representative government is possible in an era in which. as Fitzwater noted, high-roller interests can “buy” legislative seats.  “When you get too much money from one particular interest group, then the perception is-and maybe the truth is-you’re going to be pretty heavily influenced and maybe not be your own person,” he observed after the balloting.

Rowland hopes the August Primary experience leads to change, commenting, “I would support some type of reform because it is completely out of control.”

The legislature has done a lot of talking about campaign finance and ethics legislation for years.  But its members have never been threatened as four of them were last week. We’ll learn next year if the August primary campaign against The Four was so far over the top that the legislature will move to equalize the volume of the voices of campaign money.

Long-time legislative observers will believe it when they see it.

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