Despite publicly disavowing candidate Todd Akin after his "legitimate rape" remark, the National Republican Senatorial Committee quietly sent $760,000 to Missouri in a last-ditch attempt to aid Akin's unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The long-suspected money shuffling, which had never previously been confirmed, is detailed in a postelection campaign finance report filed this week by the Missouri Republican State Committee. A spokesman for Senate Democrats asserted Friday that the funding was "underhanded and dishonest."
The Republican senatorial committee had said it would no longer support Akin after the suburban St. Louis congressman remarked in August that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in what he called "legitimate rape." Although Akin apologized, he refused calls from leading Republicans to drop out of the race so that the Missouri GOP could field a replacement candidate.
By remaining in the race, Akin left the Republican senatorial committee with an awkward decision: Reverse course and support Akin, regardless of how it might affect the party's image, or stand pat and further jeopardize Akin's chances of winning and the GOP's chances of taking control of the Senate. It split the difference - publicly standing by its disavowal of Akin while privately funneling money to his campaign.
A federal campaign finance report shows that the Missouri Republican State Committee received $760,000 from the NRSC in two payments made Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. About the same time, the state Republican committee made two payments totaling $756,000 for TV ads supporting Akin, according to the finance report.
Neither the NRSC nor the state GOP committee would confirm the source of the money at the time of the ad buys. Spokesmen for the two Republican groups did not immediately return messages Friday.
Akin's former campaign spokesman, Ryan Hite, said Friday that he always had assumed the money came from the NRSC.
"No one actually ever officially told us," Hite said. But "everything tended to be implied of where the state committee got this money. ... It was very quiet."
Democrats denounced the secretive payments as deceptive.
"It was underhanded and dishonest that they would purposely mislead the public about their actions," said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
McCaskill campaign manager Adrianne Marsh said it was "insulting to Missourians that the NRSC thought they could get away" with quietly directing money to Akin.
"I don't know what's worse, the hypocrisy or the evasion," Marsh said.
The money was too little, too late to help Akin. McCaskill solidly defeated him with 55 percent of the vote to his 39 percent - the largest victory margin for a Missouri Senate race in 18 years.
Akin had expressed frustration during the campaign that the Republican senatorial group had not publicly supported him as part of their drive to gain the four seats necessary to take control of the Senate away from Democrats. As it turned out, Democrats ended up gaining two additional Senate seats.
"I don't know if anyone could pinpoint exactly what won or lost the election for McCaskill or for Akin, but I'm sure that having those expenditures earlier on would definitely have given us a boost - I have no doubt about that," Hite said.
One organization that did publicly come to Akin's defense was the Kansas City-based Now or Never Political Action Committee, which launched a $1 million ad buy in the closing days of the campaign. At the time, the source of that money also was unclear.
A finance report filed this week by the organization shows it received $800,000 from wealthy Missouri businessman Rex Sinquefield on Nov. 1. That came one day after the organization reported making a similarly sized payment for ads supporting Akin. The committee also had other contributors, and made an additional $200,000 ad buy for Akin on Nov. 2.
Since his loss, Akin has sent emails to supporters seeking money to pay off campaign debt. But it's not clear how much he still owes, because his campaign declined to release a summary of its postelection finance report.
McCaskill's campaign provided a summary Friday showing she spent nearly $19.3 million on her re-election and has a debt of $238,000. Marsh said the campaign has outstanding invoices for ad production.
Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.
David A. Lieb can be reached at http://twitter.com/DavidALieb