After multiple murderous rampages this month, Democrats across the United States made renewed demands for elected officials to eschew the country’s relentless gun lobby and pass tighter gun control laws. An 18-year-old massacred 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, with an AR-15-style rifle on May 24 in the second-worst school shooting in American history. Just 10 days earlier, an 18-year-old racist killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket with the same kind of weapon. In the wake of these shootings, Trudy Busch Valentine, a Missouri Democrat running for U.S. Senate, made a pledge to voters.
“The American people overwhelmingly support commonsense gun legislation: universal background checks, closing loopholes, and restricting the sale of military-style assault weapons,” she said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 25. “In the Senate I will be a leader on this issue and will support efforts to end the filibuster in order to pass meaningful gun legislation.”
“I will fight with everything in me to bring an end to this violence,” she added on Twitter.
But while Busch Valentine spreads the message that she’s a champion for reform, her family estate was set to host a fundraiser for the most powerful gun lobbying organization in the country. Grant’s Farm, a multimillion-dollar former plantation that she owns and operates with her siblings, was scheduled to host the event for the National Rifle Association in September, according to the website for Friends of NRA, the lobby’s fundraising arm. Single tickets were listed for $75; $5,500 bought a table for eight and one specialty NRA engraved pistol. Attendees could also purchase raffle tickets to earn a chance at winning more firearms.
Following publication of this story, Busch Valentine tweeted that she approached the Grant’s Farm board. “Today it came to my attention that the NRA planned to hold an event at Grant’s Farm,” she said. “Upon learning this, I did just what I will do in the Senate and persuaded the Board to cancel the event. Tonight, I am glad to share they agreed.” Busch Valentine also said she “made a personal contribution to @MomsDemand, that exceeds the rental fees the NRA is paying to Grant’s Farm for the event.” Her spokesperson declined to specify the rental fee amount and how much she donated to the gun safety organization.
Today it came to my attention that the NRA planned to hold an event at Grant's Farm. Upon learning this, I did just what I will do in the Senate and persuaded the Board to cancel the event. Tonight, I am glad to share they agreed.
— Trudy Busch Valentine (@buschvalentine) June 1, 2022
The Busch family, of the multibillion-dollar Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, has helped line the NRA’s pockets for years. A 2018 invitation-only fundraiser at Grant’s Farm billed it as an “exclusive venue” and siphoned more than $43,000 to the organization, according to a post on the NRA Foundation website. Members of the Busch family were in attendance, though the post doesn’t say which ones. “It is exciting to attend because people get to experience the Anheuser-Busch estate, and not many people can say they’ve done that,” said Tim Besancenez, who worked on the event.
And in 2007, the NRA’s lobbying arm hosted its first annual dinner and auction at Grant’s Farm, where 500 guests had the opportunity to bid on a safari in Tanzania and various firearms.
“Thanks to the generosity of Anheuser-Busch, the inaugural event was a huge success, raising nearly $300,000 to support [the NRA Institute for Legislative Action’s] legislative, legal, and political efforts,” a post on the NRA website says. At the time, the Busch family trust owned the estate and leased it to Anheuser-Busch, then led by the Senate candidate’s nephew, August Busch IV, a prolific Democratic Party donor. The Senate candidate and some of her siblings later bought the property in 2017 and took over operations from the beer company in November 2021.
The NRA has stood by the use of AR-15s, insisting they “are the most commonly used rifles in marksmanship competitions, training, and home defense.” Its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, said at the organization’s convention last week that the NRA was being targeted by government opponents. Repudiating the criticism the lobby received in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre that killed 20 children and six adults, LaPierre spread the oft-cited mantra, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” After multiple on-site armed guards discredited that argument and failed to stop the Uvalde shooter, the association was unapologetic.
Grant’s Farm President Doug Stagner told The Intercept earlier on Tuesday that the estate doesn’t comment on private events, and emails to Friends of NRA and Busch Valentine’s campaign went unanswered.
Busch Valentine grew up on Grant’s Farm, which has been in her family since the early 20th century. During the 1800s, it was part of a plantation called White Haven owned by President Ulysses Grant and the family of his wife, Julia Dent, who used slave labor to build on the land. Local historian Amanda Clark said that “records show between 30 and 90 enslaved people living on White Haven depending on the decade,” the New York Post reported earlier this month.
Despite its sordid history, Busch Valentine hasn’t shied away from the estate. In fact, she used Grant’s Farm to kick off her campaign: “For me, it all began on a farm,” Busch Valentine said in her launch video. She then scheduled a fundraiser at the estate in May to boost her campaign, seeking as much as $5,800 from donors.
As The Intercept previously reported, Busch Valentine was crowned queen of a whites-only elite ball in 1977 in St. Louis. Busch Valentine said in a statement: “I failed to fully grasp the situation. I should have known better, and I deeply regret and I apologize that my actions hurt others.”
Busch Valentine was an unexpected contender when she threw her hat in for the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. She has never run for public office before; prior to running for Senate, she held fundraisers for high-profile candidates, like one for 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton at Grant’s Farm.
In this year’s high-stakes midterm elections, which will determine whether President Joe Biden retains the Democratic majority in Congress he needs to implement his agenda, Busch Valentine faces multiple primary rivals. There is Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran and antitrust advocate who’s similarly never held elected office but has managed to outraise his many Republican opponents with his populist economic messaging. Spencer Toder is also a political outsider who works in real estate and co-founded a medical equipment company; he’s running a progressive campaign focused on addressing the climate crisis.
Both Kunce and Toder have called for enacting more gun safety measures.
There are also a handful of Republicans competing to win the party’s nomination. The Senate seat is considered a safe GOP stronghold, though the front-runner’s scandalous past may be a liability that could present an opportunity for the Democratic nominee to flip it.
Leading the pack in the polls is disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid multiple criminal allegations, including that he sexually assaulted a woman he was having an extramarital affair with, which he denied. In March, his ex-wife, University of Texas professor Sheena Chestnut Greitens, accused him of abusing her and their two children — allegations that he claimed were part of a political plot to undermine him. Last week, her attorney said records showed that she did not coordinate with his enemies, though his counsel refuted that. Their custody battle continues.
Multiple Republicans, including the outgoing Blunt, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate to succeed him, have called on Greitens to back out of the race. The controversies surrounding Greitens have worried many conservatives, like talk show host Hugh Hewitt, that he will be “Todd Akin 2.0.” Akin, a Republican, famously lost Missouri’s 2012 Senate race to Democrat Claire McCaskill after he bizarrely told an interviewer asking about abortion: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Instead, many conservatives are rallying behind Rep. Vicky Hartzler or Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, including August Busch III, Trudy’s brother, who donated $250,000 to the Schmitt-linked PAC Save Missouri Values. Both candidates have connections to the NRA. Hartzler is endorsed by Secure Our Freedom Action Fund, which is led by Chris Cox, the NRA’s former political operations director, and Schmitt is backed by former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.
Update: May 31, 2022, 7:20 p.m.
The story has been updated to include a statement by Busch Valentine following publication.
Update: May 31, 2022, 9:55 p.m.
Following publication, Busch Valentine tweeted that the event at Grant’s Farm had been canceled. The headline and article have been updated.