JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — On the surface, things look good for the Missouri Republican Party after winning commanding legislative majorities in the recent elections. But an internal battle is brewing over the party's leadership because of concerns about lackluster fundraising heading into the 2016 elections.
Republican consultant John Hancock says he plans to challenge state party Chairman Ed Martin in a leadership election that will occur within the next couple of months. Hancock points to what he describes as a "complete collapse" in party fundraising.
At times this past year, the party has reported just a few thousand dollars in its bank accounts, with debts nearly equaling or exceeding the available cash.
"I am very concerned that the Republican Party does not have the resources to do the things that are necessary in 2016 to ensure Republican victories up and down the ballot," Hancock said.
Martin acknowledged that fundraising is "a constant challenge," but he added, "our finances are fine." Martin said he's still trying to rebuild the party after an era in which it routinely doled out sizable consulting contracts, including to Hancock's firm.
The first step in the leadership battle will occur Saturday, when 34 Republican state senatorial district committees each elect two people to serve on the Missouri Republican State Committee. Those state committee members will elect the party chairman at a yet-to-be-determined later date.
Missouri's 2016 elections will be big for the Republican and Democratic parties. In addition to a presidential race, Missouri's ballot will include contests for the U.S. Senate and House, governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general and the state House and Senate. In several of those races, including for governor, there will be no incumbent — giving both parties an equal shot at those seats.
The high stakes have created a sense of urgency among some Republicans, who don't want a repeat of the 2012 elections, when Democrats won a nationally watched U.S. Senate race and every statewide office on the Missouri ballot except lieutenant governor.
Martin, who lost a bid for attorney general that year, successfully challenged Republican Party Chairman David Cole following the 2012 elections.
"After 2012, the confidence in the Republican Party in Missouri was shaken. So we've had to re-earn that," Martin said.
Martin said he has tried to implement a more "participatory model" for party members. He launched the Mighty MO Victory Crew, in which donations of at least $8.25 monthly are automatically charged to people's credit cards. He estimated that 400 people have signed up.
But Hancock said a reliance on small-dollar donors is sinking the party's finances. He notes that the number of businesses and individuals giving at least $5,000 has fallen by about half during Martin's tenure.
As of Sept. 30, the Missouri Republican Party's finance reports showed a balance of barely $1,300 in its state account and about $25,500 in its federal account with a debt of nearly $22,000. In the ensuing weeks, the House Republican Campaign Committee and individual state legislative candidates poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the state party. But the money was essentially just a transfer, so the state party could use its lower postage rates to mail fliers on behalf of the candidates.
Republican Party Treasurer Dick Peerson said the party's finances are the worst he's seen in a decade on the job.
"I don't think it's any secret that we're not doing very well financially," Peerson said. "It's been tough fundraising."
Hancock served as executive direct of the party from 1997-2004 and continued to be paid as party fundraiser through 2012. If elected chairman, Hancock said he would revive the party's fundraising as a volunteer.
Martin said political party fundraising has changed dramatically in the past decade, partly because federal court rulings have freed independent committees to spend millions of dollars on elections and because Missouri no longer has campaign contribution limits for candidates.
"We've raised plenty of money," said Martin, adding: "The proof is in the pudding. Did we succeed in 2014? I think we did."
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