Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich launched his campaign for governor by lashing out at the man who he says is a symbol of the “rampant corruption” in the state Capitol -- wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield.
Schweich said that Sinquefield, the state’s top political donor, has been engaging in “corrosive tactics’’ with “an army of mercenaries.’’ Their aim, he said, is to advance proposals – such as the elimination of Missouri’s income tax and replacing it with a huge sales tax -- that he says would help the wealthy but hurt small business and middle-class Missourians.
Sinquefield now is actively seeking to “buy a governor,’’ the auditor said.
“No one wants this machine to take over the state,” Schweich said. He said that Sinquefield has employed 1,000 people and set up over 100 political committees to advance his agenda.
“If they run our state, we won’t have a debate over whether it’s Missour-AH or Missour-EE,’’ he said. “It will be Missour-REX.”
Challenges ethics of Hanaway and Koster
Schweich said that his GOP rival – former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway – is “bought and paid for’’ because she has collected at least $1 million from Sinquefield and groups that he bankrolls. That amounts to about 70 percent of the money she has raised.
The auditor then said that some Republicans suspect that Hanaway may be Sinquefield’s bogus candidate “propped up” to aid in the election of the only announced Democrat for governor, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.
Although Koster hasn’t received any recent donations from Sinquefield, Schweich said Koster had received close to $500,000 from the financier and his campaign committees in earlier statewide campaigns.
Schweich cited Sinquefield's pro-Koster comments. “The Sinquefield people may be chess players, but they’re not very good at poker because I think they’ve tipped their hand,” the auditor said.
The upshot of his attacks was that voters will see little difference between Hanaway or Koster, who Schweich said “is clearly for sale.”
Schweich cited the New York Times story last fall that accused Koster of giving preferential treatment to companies and lobbyists that were campaign donors.
“The issue of ethics and accountability…may be the key issue in the campaign,” Schweich said.
“You have my word that as governor, I will clean up Jefferson City with a level of intensity, tenacity, transparency and rigor that this state has never seen before,” he said.
Rivals challenge Schweich's own fundraising
A spokesman for Sinquefield declined comment. But some of Schweich's critics said that the auditor’s fundraising also relied on prominent donors, just not Sinquefield.
For example, Records show that Schweich has collected close to $600,000 since 2009 from wealthy businessman Sam Fox and his relatives and another $326,000 from major GOP donor David Humphreys.
Schweich said the key issue isn’t generous donors but how much a candidate relies on them. He announced a voluntary plan in which he will accept no more than 25 percent of his annual campaign contributions from a single donor.
He called on his rivals to adopt a similar restriction, but said he would comply with his plan regardless of their actions.
A spokesman for Hanaway ignored the jabs about Sinquefield and instead accused Schweich of being divisive and intent on delivering the governor’s mansion to yet another Democrat.
“Conservative activists throughout Missouri believe primaries have repeatedly cost the Republican Party statewide elections,” said Hanaway's spokesman Nick Maddux. He noted that Schweich had just been sworn in to another term as auditor.
“Schweich’s electoral record is marked by relentless pursuits of the next office and tearing apart the Republican Party,” Maddux said, asserting that Hanaway’s record in contrast had been to aid other Republicans.
State Democratic party chairman Roy Temple did bring up Sinquefield.
“It appears that Rex Sinquefield’s slate for Republican nominations in 2016 will receive some challenge,” Temple said. “However, most Republicans in Jefferson City continue to remain silent instead of fighting back against Rex, Inc’s friendly takeover of their party. Democrats have a strong, consensus candidate in Attorney General Chris Koster, who will fight for working families as governor.”
Schweich’s objectives as governor
Schweich is a lawyer who was first elected auditor in 2010. His political mentor has been retired Sen. John C. Danforth, who plans to join him on the campaign trail, he said.
If he’s elected, Schweich said, he’ll seek to form the Missouri Accountability Commission to advance proper conduct in government and to investigate improper actions.
“I’ve been in Jefferson City for four years and I don’t like what I see,” he said.
But Schweich also detailed other objectives:
- Curbing the state’s “huge and unwieldy” tax-credit programs that cost the state more than $600 million a year;
- Advancing tax cuts tied to increases in state income and reduction in the size of state government.
- Eliminating fraud and waste in our welfare, childcare and entitlement programs;
- Setting up a statewide program to offer bonuses for state workers who make cost-saving proposals.
- Bolstering the state’s support of its 100,000 family farms. “I promise to be the most pro-agriculture governor in the history of Missouri.”
- Shifting more money into public education, using savings from other trimmed state programs. Schweich called for voluntary consolidations of some rural districts and setting up higher standards for charter schools.
- Taking lessons from the unrest in Ferguson. "Ferguson has shown us we have to be better listeners to all Missourians in the state," he said.