Primary Color

Following the greenbacks as Missouri gears up for Super Tuesday

Missouri is about to hold its first open presidential primary since 1988, but the attention of most campaigns and the national media has been focused on the big Super Tuesday contests of California, New York and Ohio. On March 7, 1,135 Democratic and 613 Republican delegates will be up for grabs in primaries and caucuses across the country, so Missouri, with 92 and 35 respectively, is barely a blip, a "did you just see something?" state on the political screen.

Similarly, the money flowing from Missouri to the candidates is a blip -- a noticeable blip. The six best-known candidates -- Republicans George W. Bush, John McCain and Alan Keyes; Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley; and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan -- together had pulled in more than $16 million from individuals in New York and $13 million from Californians as of Dec. 31. By contrast, Missouri givers had anted up just $1.6 million by that date.

Nevertheless, the state is taking part in the biggest event of the primary season. On Missouri's ballot, there will be five "established" parties represented -- Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Constitution and Reform -- and 18 candidates to choose from.

Nationally, this primary has netted more cash for its candidates' campaigns than any other in history -- some $150 million for the top six, according to information compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonprofit campaign-finance-research group based in Washington, D.C. And, according to a study by Common Cause, another Washington-based public-interest group, the national parties raised more than $105 million in "soft money" in 1999, an increase of 81 percent since the last comparable election cycle in 1995.

But this year's sound bites have shifted from how much money the candidates can raise to how much they can say they don't like to raise it. As CRP executive director Larry Makinson says, McCain's successful fixation on campaign-finance reform has changed the entire direction of the primary. "One of the things this primary is showing is that if you can get the public's attention, you can trump the money," he says. "I think that's what John McCain did in New Hampshire, and that set off a chain reaction.

"The difference between where we were Jan. 1 and where we are today is extraordinary by historical standards," Makinson continues. "I mean, if you looked at the cash on hand in the two campaigns of John McCain and George Bush, McCain had $1.5 million and George Bush had $31 million. By the end of February, that has changed considerably.... It's moved from an impossible financial distance to close enough to really pull an upset here."

Suddenly, every candidate talks like a campaign-finance celibate: "We must end the glorified bribery," says Buchanan. "Nothing breaks our trust in democracy as much as big money," says Bradley. "Today we speak with one voice in our demand for tough mainstream, nonpartisan campaign-finance reform," says Gore. "In all instances, it should be individuals, not corporate directors or union bosses, who control the political process," says Bush.

Ben Senturia is a steering-committee member of Missouri Voters for Fair Elections, which is pushing for a state ballot initiative this November to allow public financing of campaigns. He notes that "for the first time, the issue of money and politics and campaign-finance reform is playing a central role; it's moved to centerstage. I think they're talking about it in the cloakrooms and that the politicians are saying, "This issue has legs.' It's definitely caught the attention of the public, and voters care about this issue."

But voters who compare the campaign platitudes of the leading candidates with their records may be in for some surprises. And they'd do well to remember the immortal words of U.S. Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Meyers (D-Pa.), who, as he took illegal contributions in 1979 during the Abscam scandal, said, "Money talks in this business, and bullshit walks."

Here is a money-and-politics index of the 2000 race:

· Number of Missourians who had given Bush contributions of $1,000 or more as of Dec. 31: 861. Number of Missourians who had given Bradley $1,000 or more: 272; Gore, 132; McCain, 40; Buchanan, 2; Keyes, 1.

· Top Missouri contributors of unrestricted "soft money" to political parties: SBC Communications, $85,000; Leggett & Platt Inc., $75,000; May Department Stores, $60,000; MCG Consulting, $55,000; Anheuser-Busch Cos., $45,000.

· Number of the five topics Bush considers his "bold agenda" to reform the civil-justice system that would benefit Americans harmed or injured by corporate actions: 0

How many of those topics are supported by corporate defense lawyers: 5.

The third most generous campaign supporter of Bush's political career: Vinson & Elkins, a corporate-law firm from Houston, $316,950.

Amount donated to Bush's presidential race by lawyers and law firms: $4.7 million.

· Some Missourians who gave $1,000 or more to Bush's presidential campaign: Andrew Baur (chairman, Mississippi Valley Bancshares Inc. and St. Louis Cardinals co-owner), August Busch III (chairman and CEO, Anheuser-Busch Cos.), August Busch IV (marketing vice president, A-B), William Danforth (chancellor emeritus, Washington University), Thomas Dunne (chairman and CEO, Fred Weber Inc.), Stan Kroenke (president, Kroenke Group, and co-owner, St. Louis Rams), Mark Lamping (president, St. Louis Cardinals), Lee Liberman (retired chairman, Laclede Gas Co.), William Maritz (chairman, Maritz Inc.), Peter Raven (director, Missouri Botanical Garden), Craig Schnuck (chairman and CEO, Schnuck Markets Inc.), Donald Suggs (publisher, St. Louis American), Andrew Taylor (CEO, Enterprise Rent-A-Car).

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