Analyst calls Missouri's heated AG race 'unusual'

By Chris Rizo | Jul 9, 2008

Margaret Donnelly

Chris Koster

Jeff Harris

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline)-The race for the Democratic nomination for Missouri attorney general is shaping up to be one of the hardest fought AG races this election, a leading political observer told Legal Newsline.

"It is unusual to have a significant primary battle; it's unusual to have primary debate that's this heated," Missouri State University political science professor George Connor said in an interview Wednesday.

Democratic state Reps. Margaret Donnelly, Chris Koster and Jeff Harris are vying for the chance to go up against Republican AG candidate Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, in November.

Until very recently, the attorney general's race was out of the limelight, with all eyes on the Show Me State's gubernatorial race, Connor said in a phone interview from his office in Springfield, Mo.

"Nobody cared about the attorney general's race until today," he said, adding that the race has attracted national media attention and has emerged as a hot topic in the blogosphere as of late.

The race to replace Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is running for governor, reached a new pitch this week amid revelations that Koster's campaign might have skirted campaign finance laws by directing contributors to give to an outside entity.

The campaign allegedly told contributors who wished to donate more to Koster than state law allowed to make an additional donation to a group called the Economic Growth Council.

The Associated Press reported that the Council then funneled the money it received into Koster's campaign coffers-to the tune of $450,000.

The Harrisonville Democrat's campaign has said it has complied with the state's campaign finance laws. The state Ethics Commission has declined to say whether Koster broke the law.

Koster was elected to the state Senate in 2004, as a Republican. In 2007, Koster changed his party affiliation.

In a fundraising letter to her supporters, Donnelly, D-Richmond Heights, recently wrote that she needs campaign cash to get her message out to voters.

"Missouri deserves an attorney general who will uphold the highest legal and ethical standards. Unfortunately, Koster has raised enough Republican money to blanket the airwaves with ads obscuring his record and glossing over these recent violations of campaign finance laws," Donnelly wrote.

"In order for us to get out our message of protecting Missouri families, I need your help," she added.

For his part, Harris in a statement said The Associated Press story "raises serious questions" about Koster's conduct.

"Candidates for public office, especially candidates for attorney general, must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards," said Harris, D-Columbia.

Whoever meets Gibbons in the general election might not have to worry about restrictions on campaign contributions since a proposal on Republican Gov. Matt Blunt's desk would repeal them effective Aug. 28.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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