Missouri’s state constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, explicitly protects an individual’s right to vote.
But a group of prominent Republican donors, Christian conservative activists and friends of John Ashcroft, a former Missouri senator and governor who served as U.S. attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, have come together in an attempt to elect Ashcroft’s son Jay secretary of state of Missouri, with the hope that he will roll back that constitutional right and push through a strict voter ID law.
Jay Ashcroft has made voter ID a centerpiece of both his primary and general election campaigns. Last year, he took advantage of a Missouri law that allows citizens to propose ballot initiatives to file a proposed constitutional amendment that would roll back the state’s constitutional right to vote and allow the state to enforce a voter ID law. Ashcroft’s amendment will be on the ballot in November.
Ashcroft’s arguments center around the usual conservative voter-fraud boogeyman. “We’re talking about potential fraud that changes statewide elections,” he has argued.
Ari Berman of The Nation reported this year that “5 percent of the electorate [in Missouri]—220,000 registered voters—lack a government-issued photo ID, according to the secretary of state’s office, and [voter ID] would cost the state nearly $17 million to implement in the first three years.”
The current secretary of state, Democrat Jason Kander, is running for U.S. Senate, hoping to unseat Roy Blunt. Of the eight secretary of state races in the country this cycle, six are for offices that are currently held by Democrats.
Behind Ashcroft’s campaign to roll back the right to vote in Missouri is a confluence of big-money donors, Religious Right activists and friends of the candidate’s father. According to campaign finance reports, nearly half of the $824,788 donated to Ashcroft’s campaign has come from just four individuals, three of whom are related to each other.
David Humphreys has contributed $200,000 to Ashcroft’s campaign, while his mother Ethelmae and his sister Sarah Humphreys Atkins each donated $50,000. The Humphreys family are the owners of TAMKO, a manufacturer of building products. According to the Kansas City Star, the family has “poured $2.75 million into a political action committee that for months has been targeting Republicans who oppose a ‘right to work’ law.” David Humphreys also contributed $1,000,000 to a super PAC supporting Marco Rubio’s failed presidential campaign.
The last 990 tax form filed by the Humphreys’ family foundation shows that in 2014 the foundation contributed to a variety of organizations connected to the conservative Koch brothers, including a $500,000 contribution to Americans for Prosperity and smaller contributions to the Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Mercatus Center.
Another $100,000 donated to Jay Ashcroft’s campaign came directly from the corporate treasury of the CNS Corporation, a Missouri-based holding company owned by pastor and businessman Charles Sharpe. Sharpe Holdings is one of the numerous companies that filed suit against the Obama administration’s contraceptive insurance mandate, an issue that ended up being heard by the Supreme Court as part of the Hobby Lobby case.
Sharpe is also the founder a school called the Heartland Christian Academy that has come under scrutiny for its sometimes extreme use of corporal punishment.
Beyond these four individuals, Ashcroft has received contributions from influential members of the Christian Right, including $5,000 from Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network. John Ashcroft is a professor at Robertson’s Regent University.
Other major funders include other friends of John Ashcroft, including his business partner David Ayers, Bush administration colleague Donald Rumsfeld, former Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, and the chair of Scooter Libby’s legal defense trust, Mel Sembler.
This group has joined together to fund a campaign that at its core is about rolling back the right to vote and the protection of that right in Missouri’s constitution.