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Reps talk fundraising during, after, legislative session


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The influence of money in politics has long been eyed as a significant speed bump to honest public policy.

In Missouri, two-year terms in the House essentially require members to always be looking at re-election. And while campaigning is an expensive proposition, representatives on both sides are wary of raising money while also making the law.

Rep. Kurt Bahr
Rep. Kurt Bahr

“To be honest with you, I don’t like raising money at all,” Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Peters, told The Missouri Times. “Most of my money comes in small donations, maybe $25 dollars a plate at a dinner or something. I do one big one every year, but aside from that I don’t raise a lot of funds and I don’t actively fundraise at all during session.”

Bahr raised less than $1,000 during the 2013 legislative session, according to his Missouri Ethics Commission finance reports. Most of the donations were less than $200 and all were unsolicited, according to Bahr.

“Typically they said about $40,000 or so is what you want for a House race, but I think I won my first time raising about $15,000 or so,” Bahr said. “Obviously a primary challenge changes that kind of thing.”

While Bahr doesn’t enjoy what he calls the “awkward” process of asking for money, and has not been challenged in a primary in recent years, other members say their desire to avoid fundraising during session comes from a concern about perception. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Fenton, said he didn’t want the “appearance” that whatever money he was given was affecting his votes during session.

Rep. Rory Ellinger
Rep. Rory Ellinger

“Often we’re dealing with a wide range of industries or individuals that will be impacted by something,” Scharnhorst said. “And if there is the perception that you’re taking money from people with a stake in the legislation you’re working on, well you could have a problem.”

Scharnhorst has funded his own campaigns significantly through donations of less than $1,000 and contributed some of his own money to his campaigns, and plans to seek the 15th Senatorial district seat currently held by Sen. Eric Schmitt, in 2016. Scharnhorst said his wife, Rea, is running for his House seat when he is termed out in 2014.

Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis, said he had a simple reason for not actively raising money during session.

“I’m not very good at it, and I don’t raise much money anyway,” Ellinger said. A campaign finance reform advocate, Ellinger said he’d prefer to enlist a small number of close friends and his own bank account to do his financial heavy lifting, and because he does not anticipate a primary challenge, he said he’s not in a rush to hold fundraising events during session.

“Seven months is enough time, more than enough time, when you’re someone like me who doesn’t automatically feel the need to raise a lot of money,” Ellinger said.