JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Republicans are still glowing from their election night triumphs across the country. In Missouri, it’s no different, and Missouri Club for Growth is hoping its best election cycle yet will yield tangible legislative results.
The organization, which also has a PAC, advocates for tax cuts and limited government, largely supporting Republican candidates and causes across the state. Funding for the Missouri CFG as well as its PAC largely stems from one source: infamous conservative mega-donor, Rex Sinquefield.
Sinquefield and CFG are frequent targets of editorial boards, lawmakers and activists on the left as prime examples of the damaging influence of money in politics.
But criticism or not, it’s hard to argue against the November success of CFG. The organization finished Nov. 4 with a 35-2 record, almost universally backing winning candidates and causes.
“This cycle sent a message,” said Tobb Abrajano, who works as a strategic advisor to Missouri Club for Growth and CFG PAC. “People are unhappy with economy and with the way things have been going in Jefferson City, and not necessarily with the majority of Republicans because clearly the supermajority there is larger now. The biggest message that came out here in Missouri is that people are over Jay Nixon and his games, especially with the appropriations process and the budget.”
Abrajano and CFG were the most active organization in the state in pushing for Amendment 10, which places new limits on Gov. Jay Nixon’s power to withhold certain funds in the state budget. CFG mounted an aggressive television campaign painting Nixon as dishonest and abusing the budget approval process to meet his own political needs.
CFG spent plenty of money in the last cycle, well into 7-figure territory. The bulk of the cash went to direct mail pieces on behalf of a number of candidates. There was also a massive television ad buy late in the cycle on behalf of Republican senate candidate Jay Ashcroft. CFG bought $250K in airtime in the final two weeks of the race on behalf of the embattled campaign, which would ultimately be one of only two CFG-backed campaigns to lose.
CFG has the raw numbers it needs to advance their agenda of limited government and tax breaks both for individuals and businesses. Republicans need 110 votes to override Nixon, and the House Republican caucus sits comfortably at 118 members.
“We don’t just show up during campaign season,” Abrajano says. “We’re around all year round. And we don’t believe we have a monopoly on good ideas, so as folks begin to pre-file bills, we’re going to be looking closely and deciding what we can put our advocacy efforts behind.”
Abrajano sees the massive caucus as a clear mandate for conservative economic principles. Executive Director of ProgressMO, Sean Nicholson, doesn’t see it quiet the same way.
“Anyone trying to interpret [election] results into a mandate for their local agenda are reading into something that simply isn’t there,” Nicholson said. “The 2012 and 2014 electorates are very different. It’s pretty easy for people, locally, to overstate their brilliance or failure based on a national trend.”
Nicholson said CFG’s close involvement in so many races is just another clear sign that Missouri lawmakers are being bought and paid for. Abrajano counters that Sinquefield organizations have donated to Democrats in the past as well, including Attorney General Chris Koster and former state representative Vicki Englund, who lost to a CFG-backed candidate, Cloria Brown.
“I’m not sure what the fascination is with [Sinquefield],” Abrajano said. “You have someone who donates to causes he supports, but he’s only criticized when that cause isn’t something that a person agrees with. There’s a hypocrisy there.”
Nicholson said he would point to the August primary — when CFG failed to successfully unseat a number of Republicans that rejected a 2013 tax cut bill — as an example of the group’s influence.
“Rex and his crew got crushed in the primaries when they tried to oust some folks,” Nicholson said. “I’m still concerned about the influence of [Rex] and groups like Club for Growth, but is that concern greater than it was at the beginning of 2014? No.”
Abrajano says he doesn’t expect Republicans to run the table in 2015, but that he does anticipate real progress on the economic front.
“There’s a lot you can’t get 118 people to agree on,” Abrajano said. “But there is definitely a lot of room to work, and I hope that we see a governor who is more apt to work with a majority party.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.