Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fool Me Once, Shame On You . . . Fool Me Twice?

What's the donation standard?
Pro-Stem Cell Group Gave RGA $250K in January . . . Will It End Up In Hulshof's or Steelman's Campaign Account?
And . . . Would They Keep It?

Kenny Hulshof's campaign for Governor is pointing to additional pro-embryonic stem cell research campaign contributions received by G.O.P. rival Sarah Steelman as evidence to question her anti-abortion credentials.

The Hulshof campaign today pointed reporters to two donations received by Steelman the year she was first elected State Treasurer, from Virginia and James Stowers, founders of the pro-embryonic stem cell research group The Stowers Insititute. Both Virginia and James Stowers gave Steelman $250 on October 13, 2004. The News-Leader's Chad Livengood is reporting that the Steelman campaign decided Wednesday to donate the $500 from the Stowers' to the Missouri Children's Baptist Home.

On Tuesday, that same children's home received a gift from the Steelman campaign after it decided to turn over a $1,275 check from Supporters of Health Research and Treatment, another pro-embryonic stem cell group.

The Hulshof campaign implies that while one questionable donation might be a "clerical error," two -- at least -- should raise serious questions about Steelman's ideological purity when it comes to stem cell research.

"If Sarah Steelman has always been against stem cell research, why have the Stowers both given her money in the past?," asked Hulshof spokesperson Scott Baker. "This debunks the myth that the previous pro-stem cell contribution was an isolated incident."

The Steelman campaign has said the State Treasurer has always passionately opposed embryonic stem cell research. Steelman spokesperson Spence Jackson told the KY3 Political Notebook that Steelman "absolutely" opposed the 2006 stem cell ballot initiative and was on record against it. But an archive search for Steelman and stem cells between 2004 and 2007 doesn't pull up any articles with her on the record on the issue.

If voters take Steelman at her word, the question becomes the standard both campaigns will set regarding donations. Is any donation from a pro-embryonic stem cell supporter off-limits? Hulshof's camp makes this distinction: "Certainly Kenny has taken money from people who support stem cell research, but that's certainly not the category into which the Stowers fall," Baker explained. "The Stowers Institute was the epicenter of the embryonic stem cell debate of '06. These aren't folks who have a passing interest in embryonic stem cell research. It's their number one issue," he added.

Hulshof's campaign won't say directly whether they believe Steelman is being dishonest about her true beliefs, but they point to comments made by pro-embryonic stem cell advocates, who seemed to think Steelman was with them. "At the very least, it appears that Sarah Steelman is trying to have it both ways on stem cell research," Baker said.

Whether any of this back and forth is resonating with primary voters is unclear. Undecided Ozarks G.O.P. primary voters that I contacted over the past few days seem to be waiting to hear more. "Jiminy Christmas, they both said the same thing! . . . They're both pro-life," said Springfield Republican Steve Robinette. "Right now I can't tell you who more fits my ideas and thoughts," he added.

For its own part, the Steelman campaign tried to move on Wednesday by reiterating its call for Hulshof to support a special session to pass anti-abortion legislation. But that issue mostly got drowned out in another day of stem cell explaining.

Down the road, though, both Republican candidates could face tough choices about who they decide to take and keep money from. The KY3 Political Notebook has learned that the now infamous "Supporters of Health Research" group out of St. Louis donated $250,000 to the Republican Governor's Association on December 21, 2007. In 2004, the Republican Governor's Association spent about $2.6 million dollars to help elect Matt Blunt. That was the second highest total spent on behalf of any candidate across the country.

It's probably a fair assumption that the "Supporters of Health Research" assumed that $250,000 donated in December would be going to help re-elect or elect a pro-embryonic stem cell Missouri Governor. But with Matt Blunt's decision to forgo re-election, that money could be used to help either Hulshof or Steelman -- who are both now on the record firmly against embryonic stem cell research.

If that money is eventually transferred into a Hulshof or Steelman account, will they keep it? -- or turn it over to a pro-life group?

It could make for a difficult, politically dicey choice and one heck of a donation.

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