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Megadonor’s Threat Wasn’t Enough to Stop Missouri Abortion Ban

While major donors are made more potent in the post-Citizens United Era, politicians don’t always listen.

Post-it notes with messages calling for a veto are seen outside Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's office on May 17, 2019, in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Money talks. Politicians don’t always listen.

Wealthy Missouri businessman David Humphries on Thursday effectively threatened to pull financial support for Missouri Republicans if Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed the bill that would criminalize abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape or incest.

Despite Humphries’ major financial support for Missouri Republican causes, Parson signed the bill Friday, adding Missouri to the growing list of states banning or restricting abortions.

The Kansas City Star noted that Humphries has given more than $15 million to Missouri GOP causes since 2015, giving him serious clout with the party and making his threat a legitimate one. But that threat couldn’t stop a bill that passed the Missouri House 110 to 44, or stop the Governor from signing it. A source close to Humphries told the Star he would fund an effort to repeal the ban.

Like most wealthy donors, Humphries exerts his influence at the federal level too. He and his wife Debra have given $8.6 million to Republicans and conservative groups since 1992.

After supporting Josh Hawley’s run for Missouri Attorney General in 2015, Humphries was the guardian angel donor for Missouri Rising Action, providing nearly half of the funds for the super PAC that spent $2.3 million to support Hawley in his 2018 Senate bid. Hawley, for his part, said this month he has long believed Roe v. Wade is “wrongly decided.”

Humphries was also a major donor to Marco Rubio, giving $2 million to the super PAC supporting Rubio’s failed 2016 presidential bid.

The Missouri businessman is just the latest in a long line of wealthy donors who resort to leveraging their financial support in their pleas to lawmakers.

In Florida, George W. Bush donor and fundraiser Al Hoffman emailed Gov. Rick Scott and other top Republicans saying he would withhold financial support if Republicans didn’t embrace an assault weapons ban following the Parkland shooting that left 17 dead. Florida lawmakers did not pass an assault weapons ban.

In Illinois, megadonor Richard Uihlein was a big supporter of Gov. Bruce Rauner, bankrolling the Republican’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. But after Rauner signed a bill expanding abortion coverage for women on Medicaid, Uihlein provided $2.5 million to Rauner’s Republican primary challenger in 2018. Rauner fended off the primary challenge before losing in November.

Some donors take matters into their own hands by creating their own group. If Democrats don’t impeach President Donald Trump, they could get blasted by TV ads in their home districts, liberal megadonor Tom Steyer said in February, making sure to note that his organization Need to Impeach has $40 million with which it can spend.

It’s unclear just how much weight these thinly veiled threats have on lawmakers. But that doesn’t stop deep-pocketed donors from trying. When Senate Republicans couldn’t get anything passed in 2017, they got a push from their loyal donors who were clamoring for a return on their investment.

“When you’re in a business and you tell your stakeholders you’re going to build a building or something, you have to follow through,” Houston-based energy executive Dan Eberhart told Politico.

After Republicans finally passed their tax bill, hedge fund managers expressed anger that they didn’t get enough out of it. They made their displeasure known by “keeping their wallets shut” in 2018, CNN reported.

Then there’s pro-Israel megadonor Haim Saban, who warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to stay out of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, indicating he is a strong supporter of the DCCC. Saban, who gave nearly $4.3 million to Democrats and liberal groups in 2018, has on several occasions expressed concern with Democratic policies over Israel while noting his consistent support for the party.

Major donors’ thinly veiled threats are made more potent in an era where donors can contribute unlimited sums to super PACs and “dark money” groups. The 10 most generous megadonors combined to pour $436 million into the 2018 election, demonstrating the mighty influence of wealthy individuals in the post-Citizens United era.

Though megadonors typically like to give most of their money to one party, there’s evidence they can switch sides. Citing displeasure with Trump, hedge fund manager Seth Klarman, previously a major GOP donor, gave $5.5 million to Democratic candidates and groups during the 2018 election, supporting hundreds of Democrats as they took control of the House.

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