Despite new law, PACS helped decide Missouri Senate race

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new law that caps contributions to state political candidates likely will shift the power in Missouri politics to third parties and reduce information about where the donations come from, according to political consultants who point to a race for a state Senate decided last week as an example of the problem.

Republican Mike Cierpiot, of Lee’s Summit, defeated Democrat Hillary Shields in Tuesday’s election for the Missouri Senate seat out of Jackson County. Two political action committees spent more than $400,000 in October to help Cierpiot and attack Shields. Cierpiot’s campaign spent $353,000, while Shields spent only $48,000, The Kansas City Star reported.

Last year, Missouri voters approved caps on donations to state political candidates but the state still allows unlimited corporate contributions to political action committees.

Consultants from both parties say the new law shifted money — and political influence — to outside groups.

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“With the limitations on direct contributions, third parties will be a preferred way to advocate for candidates,” said Chuck Hatfield, a Democratic attorney with expertise in state election law.

John Hancock, a longtime Republican political consultant, agreed. He said voters thought they were limiting the influence of wealthy campaign donors but the unintended consequence will be shifting influence in Missouri politics from candidates to outside spending groups.

“You can’t raise as much money, so you don’t have the resources as a candidate to dictate your own campaign,” he said. “Elections are being taken out of the hands of candidates and put into the hands of others.”

Even Cierpiot said the former system, which allowed unlimited contributions to candidates, was better because the donations had to be fully disclosed.

“Right now, interest groups that want to get involved will just form PACs, and a candidate has no input,” Cierpiot said before the election.

If a candidate coordinates with a PAC, any spending would be an in-kind donation subject to contribution limits. If there is no coordination, PAC spending can be unlimited and the candidate has little influence on how it’s spent.

When Cierpiot’s race became closer than expected, a political action committee connected to a nonprofit called Missouri Alliance for Freedom spent $110,000 in October attacking…

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