GOP again criticizes Sen. McCaskill over personal wealth
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Republican opponents of Missouri's Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill are criticizing her wealth as she makes a bid for a third term, a tactic that's failed to bring her down in past elections but could continue to dog her campaign.
While McCaskill says she's spent her career fighting for Missourians on pocketbook issues by supporting policies such as cutting red tape for businesses and federal job training programs, Republican challenger Josh Hawley has described her as "rich and liberal."
An analysis by Roll Call ranked McCaskill the 24th richest member of Congress, with an estimated $26.9 million net worth. Much of her wealth is attributed to the business success of her husband Joseph Shepard, which was already well-established when they married in 2002.
The latest criticisms center on news reports that her husband has invested $1 million in Matrix Capital Management, a U.S.-based fund that feeds into a "master fund" located in the Cayman Islands. Hawley spokeswoman Kelli Ford called McCaskill a "phony" after she previously co-sponsored legislation that would target tax havens, but McCaskill spokeswoman Meira Bernstein has said she makes policy decisions based on what's good for Missourians, not her husband.
McCaskill has also faced pushback over her use of a private plane during some parts of a state tour that her campaign promoted with photos of her campaign RV.
McCaskill spokesman Eric Mee said that it "must be campaign season again; the party of Donald Trump is attacking Claire for her husband's wealth." When asked whether her finances impact her ability to serve Missourians' interests, he said: "No. Does Donald Trump's?"
Hawley makes a roughly $153,000 salary as Missouri's attorney general. Financial disclosure forms list him and his wife, Erin Hawley, as having a minimum of about $520,000 in assets - substantially smaller than Shepard's fortune, but enough for the family to afford some luxuries. Erin Hawley, who grew up on a ranch, in a statement said she recently saved up to buy the family horse, Snap, "because I want the boys to learn how to ride and punch cows."
McCaskill's political opponents have long sought to make an issue of her wealth.
Her gubernatorial primary opponent, former Gov. Bob Holden, in 2004 aired an ad accusing Shepard of running dangerous nursing homes that helped finance McCaskill's campaign. In the 2006 Senate race, Republican Sen. Jim Talent ran an ad accusing Shepard and McCaskill of using an insurance company based in the Bahamas as a tax shelter, which they denied. During McCaskill's last re-election bid, former Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin ran an ad criticizing about $1 million in housing subsidies financed through the 2009 stimulus act that went to businesses affiliated with Shepard.
She also sold a private plane she co-owned with her husband in 2011 after her use of it for official business and back taxes created a political headache.
But Democratic consultant Jack Cardetti, who helped with McCaskill's 2006 U.S. Senate race, said "in each and every instance, the attacks on her family have fallen flat."
Retired Missouri State University political scientist Mark Rushefsky said attempts to label McCaskill as an "elitist, out-of-touch" candidate this time around likely are aimed at tapping into President Donald Trump's resonance with the white working class during his 2016 campaign.
Rushefsky said there's also some irony in the criticism, although he said it could be effective.
"It's kind of funny that Republicans, which have a billionaire president, are attacking somebody for having personal wealth," he said.
Cardetti said Missouri Republicans' support for Trump will make attacks on McCaskill "reek of hypocrisy." Republican consultant John Hancock said there's a difference.
"It's less about the wealth and more about the perception that she tries to create that she's just one of the folks out there," Hancock said. "Donald Trump's never pretended to be anything other than a very, very wealthy businessman."
The digs on McCaskill struck a chord with mid-Missouri Republican Chris Milburn, a former Camden County Republican Club treasurer. He said flying in a private plane and her Missouri mansion and Washington, D.C. condo mean McCaskill "can't be in touch with the citizens of Missouri."
Some Missouri Democrats say it has no impact on her work.
"I've had a chance to be in the room with Sen. McCaskill several times, and the word that comes to mind is not 'wealthy,'" Greene County Democratic Party Executive Director Skyler Johnston said. "That's not her persona."