Two weeks ago our legislators got together for their annual veto session. This is an important part of the state legislature’s business; to attempt to override the governor’s healthcare defunding. To say that they failed would be an understatement.
But as the Kansas City Star reported, these same legislators were privy to “a parade of parties and fundraisers [by special interest groups] all over the Capitol City, with 16 events Tuesday night and 10 more Wednesday morning.” Ethics be damned and full speed ahead.
The problem, as we are all aware, is that Missouri has minimal ethics laws and our legislators refuse to set limits on campaign contributions and gifts from the special interests.
Lobbying has its place in the system of government. You cannot expect your legislator to know everything thing there is to know about over 600 topics a year. A lobbyist’s real job is that of educator, to inform the legislators the pros and cons of a proposed bill from the eyes of their clients. Hopefully, there is a representative from the other side doing the same thing so legislators can make a reasonable and informed decision on how to vote.
The major problem is that politics has become all about the money and not the legislative process. I applaud those who are seeking office who are promising to take no special interest or big business money for their campaigns. But once elected, they will soon learn that part of the deal of being in government is how much money you can raise for your colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, for example, hosted a party that required campaign contributions of up to $2500 per person for dessert, drinks and elbow rubbing poolside at his home in Jefferson City. As of this writing, we do not know how many people attended, but I am sure that the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee made out with a pretty penny or two.
Of the ten main headings of the Missouri Ethics Commission’s 2017 brochure “The MEC Guide to Ethics Laws In Palin English,” not one deals with campaign contribution limitations, lobbyist gifts or other “freebies” that may come a legislator’s or candidate’s way.
Clean Missouri has gained enough signatures to have ballot issue presented this November 7. The initiative will ask the voter to approve a new law that would include:
- Lowering the allowable campaign contribution limits for state lawmakers and candidates
- Banning “almost all” gifts from lobbyists to legislators
- Forcing politicians to wait two years after leaving the legislature before becoming lobbyists
- Declaring legislative records to be subject to Missouri’s open records law
- Prohibiting senators and representatives from political fundraising on state-owned property
- Changing how Missouri’s political maps are drawn.
However, according to the Springfield News-Leader, Clean Missouri is also guilty of accepting large donations from special interest groups including the National Education Association, the Eastern Missouri Laborers Educational and Benevolent Fund, and Planned Parenthood affiliates, among others. Even the protesters cannot avoid the money chase.
The problem is that the courts of the land see money as a form of free speech, the ability of wealthy organizations and individuals to by political advertising time and espouse their messages. Most recently we saw this in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), striking down much of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act.
Now it is time for a “citizen’s initiative” to attempt to limit spending for at least state elections and lobbying efforts. Will it succeed? I guess we’ll have to wait to at least November 8, 2017, to know the answer. Maybe longer, depending on court actions.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com.
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