The Missouri billboard lobby offered thousands in free advertising to the Republican nominee for secretary of state in an effort to put someone in the office who will give the billboard industry a boost.
Last week's donation of $89,300 in billboards and billboard vinyl from Lamar Companies to GOP secretary of state nominee Shane Schoeller is part of the industry's push to elect Schoeller to the spot, Bill May, the executive director of the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association, told The Huffington Post.
Other billboard companies are likely to follow suit with billboard space for Schoeller who faces Democratic nominee Jason Kander in a race to succeed retiring Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), said May.
The office -- which oversees elections and regulates securities in the state -- is important to the industry, May said, because it is responsible for drafting ballot referendum language.
The ballot language of two past referendums to end billboards in the state was slanted against the billboard industry, he said. May wants a secretary of state who will take the billboard industry into account when drafting future referendums.
"Both times, we felt that the ballot language drafted by the secretary of state's office was misleading or one-sided," May told HuffPost. "Because it is up to the secretary of state to draft the language, they can make it sound appealing or not appealing."
The ballot language issue has been a key one in the race, with conservative groups accusing Carnahan of designing language to favor liberal beliefs. Missouri is known for a proliferation of billboards, including heavy concentrations in the tourist areas of Springfield and Branson.
Stouffer, who received $117,000 from the billboard industry, authored a bill to allow the state Department of Transportation to move older billboards during highway widening projects instead of tearing them down, an issue long championed by the billboard lobby.
But May said the industry also supported Schoeller because of his strong support for pro-billboard legislation as state House speaker pro tem. "I think he was someone very interested in that. He has supported us over the years," May said.
When asked about Kander, a two-term state representative from Kansas City, May said, "who?"
"I am not acquainted with him," May said of Kander. "Frankly, I know Shane Schoeller very well and I trust him. He is someone I can tell our people doesn't hate billboards."
The donations are legal under Missouri law, which does not have donation caps. Schoeller's campaign recently accepted $250,000 from Missouri millionaire businessman Rex Sinquefield.
Kander, who has long championed campaign finance reform, came out against Schoeller's billboard backing.
"This is just another example of the stark difference in this election. We're proud to have raised more than $1.1 million from over 1,600 donors to Jason's campaign. Shane Schoeller, on the other hand, has only been able to raise campaign money from the special interests he's helped," Kander's campaign manager Abe Rakov said.
"Schoeller voted for the billboard industry's top priority this year and now has received a gift of $89,000 from a billboard company. This tells Missourians all they need to know about what kind of secretary of state both of these men would be."
Schoeller's campaign did not return a call for comment.
May told HuffPost that the billboard industry is fighting for survival in the state and the secretary of state's race is a key battleground.
"There are people who are fanatics about billboards, they hate them," he said. "I wonder what makes these people hate billboards so much? There are real zealots out there who hate billboards and want to eliminate them."
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