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St. Louis circuit attorney candidate defends accepting super PAC campaign money from liberal billionaire

St. Louis circuit attorney candidate defends accepting super PAC campaign money from liberal billionaire

Kim Gardner advertisement

An advertisement for St. Louis circuit attorney candidate Kimberly Gardner was posted to the "Missouri Safety & Justice" YouTube channel on July 20. The Washington D.C.-based Safety and Justice political action committee that paid for the ad, which has been supported by liberal billionaire investor George Soros, made a $67,693.23 donation to Gardner on July 19.

UPDATED at noon Aug. 1 with information on a third large donation to candidate Kim Gardner from George Soros-backed 'super PAC.'

ST. LOUIS • Kimberly Gardner, one of four Democrats running for St. Louis circuit attorney in the Aug. 2 primary, is taking heat for a new political ad paid for with money from a national super PAC that is at least partly funded by liberal billionaire George Soros.

The new internet and cable TV ad was financed by a federally registered campaign committee from Washington called the Safety & Justice Committee. It was established in June and reported $30,000 in initial funds from Soros. No other contributors were listed as of its last public filing June 30.

Last week, Gardner’s campaign disclosed to the Missouri Ethics Commission a $67,693.23 in-kind contribution from the super PAC. The group apparently took in additional money after June 30, since it donated more to Gardner than it had on hand at that time. But any money donated to the PAC after June 30 won’t be made public until its next quarterly report is filed on Oct. 15.

On July 26, Gardner's campaign reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission a $24,548.37 in-kind donation from the same federal campaign committee, a day after reporting a $25,738.86 contribution from that super PAC. Then on July 29, Gardner reported an additional $72,770.27 from Safety & Justice, bringing the Soros-backed super PAC total contribution to Gardner's campaign to at least $190,750.73.

Gardner is running against two assistant circuit attorneys, Mary Pat Carl and Patrick Hamacher, and Steve Harmon, a staff attorney for St. Louis Public Schools and former St. Louis police lieutenant, to replace Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who is stepping down. No Republican has filed.

Carl, Hamacher and the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which endorsed her, have criticized Gardner for help from an outside political group.

“We’ve got to solve our problems on a local level,” Carl told the Post-Dispatch. “We don’t need an outside national committee who doesn’t know us to come in and buy our election.”

Joe Steiger, president of the police union, said he believes that Soros also funded out-of-state activists to escalate protests into riots in Ferguson after the Aug. 9, 2014, police shooting of Michael Brown, 18.

“It’s pretty insulting,” Steiger said Friday of the contribution to Gardner. “It’s more important for people to realize that calling for ‘black lives matter’ and ‘blue lives matter’ is not an opposite proposition.”

Hamacher, too, said he was “disappointed” and noted that his more than $85,000 in campaign donations came from at least 475 contributors.

Gardner said Friday that she has no regrets about assistance from the super PAC. She said the latest donation is paying for the TV and online ad, and that the committee’s mission aligns with her platform to reform the criminal justice system and restore trust in the community. She said the spot will run until primary day.

The committee “reached out and heard my platform and liked what I was saying about building trust,” Gardner said. “They said they’d like to support me and get my message out.”

The Safety & Justice Committee’s donation more than doubles Gardner’s campaign cash. She had $63,460.38 as of July 15, according to her last campaign finance report. Carl still has more — with $145,359.45 at the end of last week.

Super PACs are legally allowed to accept unlimited donations, provided that they use money only for “independent expenditures” such as television commercials on issues, for example. Super PACS cannot legally donate directly to federal candidate, but no law says they can’t donate candidates in state and local races.

A similar kind of donation was made this week on a much larger scale when a committee called “SEALs for Truth” made the single largest donation to a candidate in Missouri history to Eric Greitens, a Republican running for Missouri governor.

Soros, a prominent backer of liberal causes, has supported Democrats in similar district attorney races around the country, including Chicago, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to published news reports.

Kevin McDermott of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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