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In Search of Money

November 07, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The new campaign finance law Missouri voters approved in 1994 have the state Republican party looking for ways to get more bang for its bucks in 1996.

Senate Republican Leader Franc Flotron said one of the reasons he wouldn't run for governor was the fund raising difficulties the new law has created for him.

The finance-restrictions also have former state Treasurer and former U.S. Congressman Wendell Bailey shying from the governor's race.

The new campaign finance law limits the amount a candidate can receive from any one individual or organization to $300 for a statewide office with smaller limits for legislative and local races.

The campaign-finance restrictions were promoted as way to keep special interests from dominating campaigns. But critics charge that the limits are putting challengers at a disadvantage against incumbents who built up large war chests before the new restrictions took effect.

"The playing field has changed enormously and favors incumbents," Bailey said.

And, since there are limitations on the amount an individual or organization may donate, candidates must find more contributors to raise the money needed to run a political race.

"There are various different candidates for offices who have already started working early," said Charline Sherrill, vice chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

These side effects plus a string of Democratic incumbents holding state offices has the Republican Party looking for a new strategy for next year's election.

Sherrill said that the state party's leadership has scheduled meetings to come up with solutions to the problems raised by the new campaign finance law.

During the 1992 election, the Republican candidates spent millions of dollars during the primaries, said state Chairman Woody Cozad. But next year, he said, could be different.

"We're going to try to avoid primaries," Cozad said. He said primaries drain challengers' funds before the race against the Democrat even begins. "The incumbent comes out with all his money left ready to fight."

The solution, Cozad said, would be for those who want to run to decide among themselves who would be the candidates.

"The deck is stacked in favor of the incumbent," Bailey said.

With a concluded federal investigation behind him, Bailey said in a telephone interview that he will run for a state office in 1996. But what that office will be, he would not say.

"I've encouraged him to run for lieutenant governor," Sherrill said jocularly. "I'm laughing because I've been through this with him before."

Bailey was elected state treasurer in 1984 and 1988. In the 1970s he represented the 8th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost that seat, which served south-central Missouri, when the Missouri House seats were trimmed from 10 to 9 in 1980.

"I believe I'm the best candidate the Republicans have for any state office," he said.

Until this September, Bailey was under a 17-month investigation that reportedly focused on campaign financing. The federal investigators announced in September that the investigation had come to an end and that no charges would be filed.

Bailey said that his political experience and name recognition would give him an advantage the Republicans need to challenge the Democratic incumbents in each of the state offices - with the exception of state treasurer, an office he cannot seek because Bailey already has served the constitutional limit of two terms in the office.

So far, State Auditor Margaret Kelly and Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit and former quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, have expressed interests in running for governor.

Sherrill said that with two Republicans running for governor, the party would like to see a strong candidate to run for lieutenant governor -- an office currently held by Democrat Roger Wilson.

Plus, Sherrill said, the new campaign finance law would make it difficult for Bailey to start a gubernatorial campaign this late in the game.

"It's just going to be too hard for someone to start at ground zero and build the campaign funds to run for office," she said.

State Democratic Chairman Joe Carmichael said the Democratic Party has no plans to change its strategy for the 1996 election.

In the meantime, the campaign finance law that's caused so many problems for Republicans is facing two court challenges.

In one, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the constitutionality of the law's expenditure limits. A U.S. District Court judge determined that Missouri cannot limit how much a candidate spends on his or her campaign.

In the other case, the Federal District Court for Western Missouri upheld the law's contribution limits.

Both cases have been appealed to Missouri's 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.