Missouri Republican Senate candidates John Brunner, Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman at a forum event in February. The winner of the primary will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Orlin Wagner/AP
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Super PACs and nonprofits have spent more than $2.2 million in the race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri, with nearly 90 percent of the total going toward negative ads, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.

Businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman have been savaged by ads paid for by deep-pocketed outside-spending groups, while Rep. Todd Akin has been spared — no doubt improving his chances for victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Not a cent has been reported on attacks against Akin, who was outperforming Steelman and was nipping at the heels of frontrunner Brunner in the most recent poll, which was released Sunday. It showed Brunner earning 35 percent of the vote, followed by Akin with 30 percent and Steelman with 25 percent.

If Akin proves victorious, he will be following in the footsteps of Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer, who won the GOP nomination for Senate after her two better-known competitors and their allies pummeled each other during the primary.

Akin has benefited from high-profile endorsements from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Phyllis Schlafly, the founder and president of the Eagle Forum, a conservative advocacy group.

The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has been on the receiving end of numerous attack ads paid for by groups such as conservative nonprofit Crossroads GPS, which was co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is supporting Brunner.

The Democratic super PAC Majority PAC, which supports McCaskill, has spent $1.1 million on ads opposing Brunner, clearly signaling it would prefer to face one of the other candidates. It has spent an additional $867,000 on ads touting McCaskill.

In late July, the Chamber attacked both McCaskill and Steelman in a 30-second spot as “birds of a feather” and “two peas in a pod.” The ad accuses them of not doing enough for Missouri businesses.

McCaskill has been rated as one of the most moderate senators by the National Journal. Steelman was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has advocated for the repeal of the President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and calls the Humane Society a “radical special interest group.”

In other ads — which the Chamber has not been required to report to the Federal Election Commission — viewers have not been explicitly encouraged to vote against McCaskill, but rather have been told to call and tell her to “stop attacking free enterprise” or to “repeal Obamacare,” a law that the Chamber argues will “kill jobs.”

The Chamber’s anti-McCaskill, anti-Steelman double-whammy cost nearly $700,000, records show.

The wealthy Brunner, the former CEO of his family’s health products company, is personally responsible for nearly $7.6 million of the $8.3 million that his campaign has raised. Steelman, meanwhile, has raised about $1.9 million, with $800,000 of it coming from her own funds. Akin has raised about $2.3 million.

A poll in late July had shown Steelman as the main competition to Brunner, despite Brunner’s fundraising advantage.

Steelman was aided in the home stretch of the campaign by Palin, who was the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. Palin praised Steelman for being “an economist who defends our tax dollars like a momma grizzly defends her cubs” in a July 30 advertisement.

Steelman has gotten a big boost from the Now or Never PAC, a super PAC that has raised a considerable amount of money from a relatively small number of donors. The group has spent about $700,000 on the race, mostly on attack ads targeting Brunner.

The super PAC’s top donors are Stanley Herzog, who runs a Missouri-based highway and railroad construction company ($250,000), retired financial executive and income tax opponent Rex Sinquefield ($100,000) and Maxine Steelman, the candidate’s mother-in-law ($50,000).

Other donors include truck dealership Peterbilt of Springfield, Inc., the campaign committee of Missouri state Rep. Caleb Jones and a political action committee connected to Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley, which have all given $25,000. Tilley is Steelman’s campaign chairman.

Among the top donors to the pro-McCaskill Majority PAC are Democratic super donor Fred Eychaner, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

When including all outside spending for the Missouri Senate race, including funds used for anti-McCaskill ads, outside groups have spent more than $3.7 million. The total consists of so-called “independent expenditures,” spending that is reported to the FEC and can be used to pay for ads that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a federal candidate.

Super PACs were created in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling and a lower court decision. They can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and businesses, but are prohibited from coordinating their expenditures with the candidates they seek to aid.

The Chamber, as a nonprofit, is not required to publicly reveal its donors.

Reity O’Brien and John Dunbar contributed to this report.

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Michael Beckel reported for the Center for Public Integrity from 2012 to 2017.