- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - An internationally known union donated $50,000 to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon days after he recently vetoed a contentious right-to-work measure, a sizeable contribution that could help fund a re-election campaign - if he was not term-limited from running again.

The campaign contribution, which has spurred criticism from Republicans, raises questions about how Nixon will spend the money when it appears unlikely that’s he’s planning for a campaign anytime soon.

“What use, then, does he have for this money?” said Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who called the donation a “reward” in a written statement. Unions have said right to work could weaken the organizations. “He should return the money. Otherwise, it smells of more ‘pay to play’ politics by this administration,” Kinder said.

A spokesman for Nixon’s office deferred comment to his campaign, and his treasurer did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Quirks in Missouri campaign finance laws, which have no limits on the size of contributions, allow term-limited and former elected officials to continue receiving, spending and hoarding donations even after they have left office.

With more than $212,000 in his fund as of the most recent report that runs through the end of March, Nixon is one of a number of current and former officeholders without immediate plans to campaign who nonetheless have sizeable pots of money at their disposal.

Former Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, whose term ended in January 2013, still has roughly $147,000 in a campaign fund. Former Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley, who resigned his position in 2012 to work as a lobbyist, has been accruing interest on more than $675,000 left over from his days of campaigning.

Tim Jones, another former Republican House speaker who followed Tilley, still has $860,000 in his campaign fund after term limits prevented him from seeking re-election last year.

The stashes could come in handy if, years from now, candidates decide to run again. Jones said like many who have served in elected office, it’s difficult for him to rule out ever running again.

“However, in Jay Nixon’s case, I don’t know that there’s been any indication whatsoever that he is considering another elected office run for anything ever again,” Jones said. “That’s what makes this particular contribution suspect.”

Those who opt not to run again can also use leftover money for anything from charitable donations to lavish meals. Funds can be used for expenses including those related to official duties, entertaining constituents or other elected officials and donating to charity, according to documents from the Missouri Ethics Commission. Using campaign money for personal use is not permitted.

Jones has used some of his money for travel expenses, donations to charity and contributions to other candidates. He spent more than $800 in gifts from Harry and David in February.

Public reports detailing how, or whether, Nixon chooses to spend campaign dollars after the donation from the international United Automobile Workers, with an address listed in the organization’s Detroit headquarters, will not be available until mid-July.

But documents show Nixon has previously used campaign funds to support other Democratic candidates, pay for political consulting and attend sports events. For example, Nixon paid more than $5,700 in October for tickets to see the Kansas City Royals and spent more than $7,000 for “refreshments” at University of Missouri sports events between January and the end of March this year.

While in Washington, D.C. for meetings with the Council of Governors and the White House as scheduled on his calendar, Nixon dropped nearly $2,600 for a meal at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, a swanky restaurant blocks from the White House that features $50 steaks.

He also gave $75,000 to the Democratic State Committee in the month before the 2014 elections, as well as $25,000 to Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, as she ran a tight race against Republican Jay Ashcroft.

Lawmakers can attempt to override Nixon’s veto of the right-to-work bill during a special session in September.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine.

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