Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich launched his gubernatorial campaign aggressively Wednesday, accusing his Republican primary rival of being “bought and paid for” by a wealthy donor and questioning the ethics of his potential Democratic opponent.
Schweich’s long-expected entrance into the 2016 governor’s race came in a speech at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he denounced “rampant corruption” at the Capitol and laid out an agenda for new ethics laws, “responsible tax cuts” and incentives for the consolidation of public school districts.
Much of Schweich’s criticism was targeted at Republican Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker and U.S. attorney who declared her candidacy a year ago. But Schweich also poked at Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who has been campaigning for governor for nearly two years.
The governor’s office will be open because Democratic incumbent Jay Nixon is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election.
Schweich, 54, of Clayton, has served as auditor since 2011 and was elected to another four-year term last November. He can run for governor without giving up his current job.
In his prepared remarks, Schweich declared himself a “true anti-corruption expert” and pledged to “clean up Jefferson City with a level of intensity, tenacity, transparency and rigor that this state has never seen before.” He also vowed to be “the most communicative, open and accessible governor in Missouri history.”
All three candidates already have compiled considerable campaign cash. At the start of this month, Schweich had about $1 million in his campaign account while Hanaway had $1.3 million. Koster had $2.6 million as of the start of October, according to his most recent report.
Most of Hanaway’s money has come from conservative political activist Rex Sinquefield, a retired investment firm founder who has also has poured millions of dollars into efforts to cut Missouri’s income taxes and curb tenure protections for public school teachers. Sinquefield also contributed to Koster in the past.
Schweich derided Sinquefield’s influence, saying he would “fight to keep the Republican Party from becoming the Rexpublican party.”
He also questioned Koster’s ethics, citing a New York Times report in October alleging Koster and attorneys general across the country were influenced by lobbyist perks while negotiating legal settlements with companies. Schweich also highlighted his 2012 audit that suggested Koster had a conflict of interest for accepting campaign contributions from lawyers seeking state contracts.
“Hanaway is bought and paid for, and Koster is clearly for sale,” Schweich asserted in his prepared remarks.
Hanaway’s campaign declined to comment about that assertion, but accused Schweich of putting his personal pursuits ahead of the good of the Republican Party. Hanaway spokesman Nick Maddux said she would bring “bold, proven leadership to the Governor’s Mansion.”
A Koster campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Schweich also has benefited from big donors. For example, he’s received more than $500,000 since 2009 from Sam Fox, a St. Louis businessman who also gave to groups supporting stem cell research.
Schweich on Wednesday proposed new campaign finance laws that would limit candidates to receiving no more than 25 percent of their donations from a single person, corporation or political action committee. He also said he would create a Missouri Accountability Commission to recommend additional ethics changes.
He said he supports “responsible tax cuts” tied to increased revenues and reductions in the size of government but opposes a Sinquefield-backed plan to replace Missouri’s income tax with a higher sales tax.
Schweich proposed incentives for the voluntary consolidation of some of Missouri’s more than 500 public school districts. He said he supports more rigorous standards for charter schools and wants an option for some students in failing school districts to attend “public-private partnerships” for their education.
Schweich made his political debut in 2010 by unseating Democratic Auditor Susan Montee. He previously worked as a private-sector attorney and for the federal government. He served as chief of staff to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and later worked in the State Department, where he was assigned to coordinate an anti-drug initiative in Afghanistan.