The 19th District state Senate race, which will be one of the most closely watched legislative contests this year, began with incumbent Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden comfortably ahead of his rival, former state Rep. Judy Baker, in fundraising.

Rowden, R-Columbia, raised $64,400 in the final quarter of 2019, almost half again more than Baker, a Columbia Democrat. He had almost $205,000 in the bank, while Baker began the year with just over $43,000.

And Rowden has something Baker doesn’t, but might create – a political action committee unencumbered by contribution limits. On Dec. 31, the Missouri Forward PAC received a $275,000 donation from Supporters of Health Research and Treatments and $150,000 from Rex Sinquefield, the most prolific funder of Republican campaigns in Missouri over the past decade.

When the year began, Missouri Forward had $532,932 on hand. Of the $503,250 it raised during the final three months of the year, $448,500 would not have been allowed if it was subject to the same limits as Rowden’s campaign account.

Rowden’s connection to Missouri Forward must end after he helps it raise money.

“I raise money for the PAC but cannot play any role in determining how or where that money is spent,” Rowden wrote in a text to explain his position. “I certainly believe the process was more transparent before the implementation of campaign finance limits, but the voters chose that path and it's the world we are living in.”

The limit, $2,500 for contributions to a state Senate race, was imposed in November 2018 when voters approved the Clean Missouri initiative, which also changes how legislative districts are drawn. Baker said she is undecided if she, too, will create a committee that can work around the limit.

“We will see,” she said. “We will have to compete on money, but I am a proponent of Clean Missouri. I am sorry that PACs weren't included. I am very proud of the support I have gotten in Senate 19, and I would point out how little of his money is from the Senate district. It begs the question, what is he doing for people?”

Reports for the final quarter of the year were due Wednesday at the Missouri Ethics Commission. The reports showed area legislative incumbents generally leading their challengers at the end of the year. Filing for offices on the Aug. 4 primary ballot opens Feb. 25.

Baker is the only Democrat actively raising money in the 19th Senate District, which includes Boone and Cooper counties, following the withdrawal of Michela Skelton in December.

Rowden won his seat in the Senate in the closest and most expensive state Senate campaign of 2016. Running against then-state Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, Rowden lost narrowly in Boone County and won by a landslide in Cooper County.

There were no contribution limits during the 2016 campaign. Webber raised $1.9 million for the race and Rowden brought in $2.4 million. Outside groups also spent about $600,000 in the race.

In other area races:


Republican Ed Lewis of Moberly raised $614 and had $1,012 in the bank as he seeks the Sixth Missouri House District seat currently held by state Rep. Tim Remole, R-Excello, who must leave office due to term limits. Democratic candidate Terrence Fiala of Marceline filed a report of limited activity, meaning the campaign took in and spent less than $1,000.
Incumbent state Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, raised $22,915 in the fourth quarter and had $25,877 on hand in the 43rd Missouri House District. No opponent is raising money to challenge him.
State Rep. Cheri Reisch, R-Hallsville, raised $7,060 during the quarter as she seeks her third term in the 44th Missouri House District. Reisch had $7,513 in the bank. Her Democratic challenger, Jacque Sample, raised $886 and had $1,749 on hand.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, who is seeking his fourth term in the 45th District, raised $10,851 in the quarter and had $71,493 on hand. He has no opposition.
State Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, is seeking her third term in the 46th District and raised $5,104 during the fourth quarter. She had $29,111 on hand and no opponent.
Incumbent state Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, took in $8,298 in the quarter and had $21,912 in the bank in his bid for a fourth term in the 47th District. Challenger Adrian Plank, who is making his second bid to unseat Basye, raised $4,677 and had $8,349 on hand on Dec. 31.
Presiding Cooper County Commissioner Don Bargary raised $100 and had $1,499 in the bank in the 48th District, where incumbent state Rep. Dave Muntzel, R-Boonville, must leave office due to term limits. No Democrat has created a committee to oppose him.
Incumbent state Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, raised $15,198 during the quarter and had $11,372 on hand in the 50th District, while Democratic challenger Kari Chesney raised $2,523 and had $4,907 in the bank.

In the Senate race, Baker has signaled that she will try to use Rowden’s position as leader of Senate Republicans to paint him as responsible for all the legislation passed, including severe restrictions on abortion and efforts to repeal the redistricting provisions of the Clean Missouri Amendment.

The reports show that most of Rowden’s money, both in the campaign account and Missouri Forward, was donated by political action committees and other interests with business before the Legislature.

“I feel like I have got so much grassroots support that we are going to be able to do this race on a whole lot less than he will raise,” Baker said. “And I believe the money and where he raises it will be an issue.”

Rowden, too, will seek to persuade voters that his position should be considered in their vote. He has the most powerful legislative post held by a Boone County lawmaker since the 1970s and argues that will be more beneficial to his district than a new member from the minority party.

“Contributions have never played a role in my decision making as it relates to policy,” Rowden wrote in a text message. “The people of Mid-Missouri have elected me three times because I have promised to find solutions to issues facing our community, and I believe we have delivered on those promises. You have to have money to tell your story in politics, and I believe we have a story worth telling.”

rkeller@columbiatribune.com

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