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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri must correct the outrageous spending on elections

Thursday, November 15, 2012 | 10:57 a.m. CST

It’s too bad that Missouri was not among the five states where millions of voters  Nov. 6 sent a message  that they want their elected leaders to rein in out-of-control campaign spending.

Two states, Colorado and Montana, overwhelmingly passed ballot issues urging their congressional delegations to support passage of a federal constitutional amendment that would, in effect, overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That decision helped make last week’s election the most costly and least transparent in the nation’s history. Dozens of cities in three other states passed similar measures, most of them pushed by the government watchdog group Common Cause.

More than $1.3 billion was spent by outside groups on this year’s election, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The good news is most of that money ended up being a bad investment. Voters saw through the avalanche of negative television ads paid for by big donors.

Voters should make sure future elections are run under different rules.

No state could benefit more from changes to state and federal campaign finance law than Missouri. The Show-Me State has no campaign contribution limits and no enforceable rules to limit the practice of hiding the identities of donors by shuffling funds among political committees.

A perfect example of this laundromat in action is the experience of the federal super PAC Now or Never. To borrow a phrase, Now or Never was against Todd Akin before it was for him.

In the run-up to Missouri’s August primary, Now or Never ran advertisements in favor of former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman’s bid to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

After Akin, a U.S. House member from Wildwood, won the primary, the super PAC — advised by political consultant Jeff Roe of Kansas City — tapped into some deeper, national pockets. It began running advertisements in several states opposing Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate.

The biggest donor to Now or Never was a Virginia-based nonprofit which won’t have to report its donors until long after the election. Eventually, Now or Never figured — wrongly, as it turned out — that Akin still had a shot in Missouri. It spent about $1 million in completely anonymous donations on his behalf.

The defenders of the “no-limit” world in Missouri’s campaign finance world argue that campaign donations are akin to free speech, and they have the U.S. Supreme Court on their side. But nowhere in the constitution does it guarantee that the source of that free speech can be hidden from sight. Indeed, in its Citizens United ruling, the court suggested that transparency would rule out the possibility of corruption.

The best way to ensure clean elections is to finance them publicly. Short of that, there should be reasonable limits on how much politicians can take from donors, be they individuals, political action committees or — in the post-Citizens United world — corporations or unions.

In 1994, 74 percent of Missouri voters agreed with that sentiment and put limitations on political contributions in place; the legislature took it upon itself in 2008 to dump those limits. Congress has limited donations in federal races. Obviously, the rise of the super PACs has limited the effectiveness of those limits.

But even if the “no-limit” advocates are right, there is simply no justification for donors to be able to hide the source of their funds. Missouri law makes that illegal, at least theoretically, as state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, pointed out in his opinion piece in the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday. Clearly, the law needs to be strengthened; Mr. Barnes is right to urge his party to get behind such a change.

As we pointed out previously, there were two egregious examples in the Missouri primary season of donors establishing nonprofit corporations, funneling donations from the sham corporations to political action groups, and thus denying voters the opportunity to have any idea who was trying to buy their influence. One of the groups spent money on behalf of Democrats and Republicans. The other played only in a Republican primary.

This is not a partisan problem. It’s an American problem.

As wide as the political divide is in this nation, it would be difficult to find anyone — at least anyone who isn’t making money off the political process — who believes it’s right that wealthy donors can conceal their identities while trying to influence the outcome of the electoral process.

The Missouri Republicans who control the legislature should follow Barnes’ lead. Bring transparency to the political process in Missouri. In his state of the state speech in January, Gov. Jay Nixon should make fixing the state’s broken campaign finance system a priority.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service should start cracking down on wayward nonprofits that exist solely, or at least primarily, as avenues to launder money.

Finally, we have a message for Common Cause: Come to Missouri. We need your help.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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Comments

Michael Williams November 15, 2012 | 11:46 a.m.

The only change I would like to see is if you contribute even 50 cents to ANY political campaign, either directly or through a bundler or PAC, you're name is written down somewhere and available to the public. If the money cannot be traced to a specific person (e.g., untracable Visa credit cards), it must be donated to....I was gonna say "me", but....the Salvation Army or Red Cross or somesuch.

And I don't care how many organizations that 50 cents flows through before it gets to a campaign. If campaigns are bought, I want to know who did it. Even individual union members (through their unions) and republican Joe Doaks will not be exempt.

This plan, of course, should apply to ALL political contributors....i.e., not exempting ones favored by the Post-Dispatch.

And foreign and out-of-state folks, too.

The whole key to campaign finance reform is transparency....who contributed what and when and to whom? The potential for identification is a powerful control.

PS: On another topic....Oh, how I yearn that each taxpayer has to pay ALL his/her taxes HIMSELF/HERSELF....directly writing the checks each month/quarter to FICA, SS, Medicare, FUTA, state, ALL health insurance, and the like. We'd be MUCH more educated and have MUCH better government if we did this. You would get one salary, a "complete" one, from which you'd have to pay everything (I do believe we will [and are] see more of this with the changing healthcare environment, i.e., Obamacare). More folks are gonna be writing their own checks for health care, which is a good thing, imo.

Instead, employers become tax collectors...and can go to jail if they fail at their jobs. And taxpayers remain happily numb and ambivalent since they never see the money in the first place. If you don't see it, it never existed.

PSS: Does anyone know if newpapers and other news media directly financed any of the various campaigns, i.e., is it allowed and does it happen? Does it count if GE owns NBC or Disney owns ABC? What do you think?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 15, 2012 | 2:29 p.m.

Speaking of the housing market.....I notice that helicopter Ban Bernanke says that "mortgage lending standards now appear to be “overly tight,” and are preventing creditworthy borrowers from buying homes"
________________

Isn't this the same sort of government interference that helped get us into the crappy situation in which we currently find ourselves.....AND are printing 40B in dollar bills each month to buy those bundles of crappy mortgages????

Is he insane or a clone of B. Frank or both?

Let the market take care of it. The market is NEVER insane over the long haul because it is a multimillion person collaborative bull-bear endeavor that eventually reflects the true nature of things. Every time some do-gooder gets involved to "fix" something, it turns out they are not smart enough to understand the concept of "unintended consequences" and things get screwed up worse!!!!!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 15, 2012 | 2:52 p.m.

Well, good timing. I commented above about individual taxpayers paying their own taxes and health care premiums.

Here's an article from the "other" newspaper that shows what some rather big companies are doing about it:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/U...

Of course, the article never mentions that any money paid by your employer is REALLY a part of your salary you never see, and it does not mention if the money given to employees for health care insurance will be taxed.

I'm betting.......yes.

Maybe not now, but soon....prolly within the next 4 years.

This is gonna be fun, dontcha think?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 15, 2012 | 3:43 p.m.

I'm not sure if it's naivete or nefarious how the media gets the Citizens United case wrong every time they talk about it...

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 15, 2012 | 4:31 p.m.

John:

Both.

I think it is seldom that a reporter reads a SCOTUS decision from beginning to end (and takes notes during the process), including the dissents. Mostly I think they report someone else's opinion. I still remember newscasters breathless awaiting the Bush v. Gore decision and gasping that the decision still kept Gore's hopes alive even though it actually cooked his goose. Shortly after that came the 5-4 myth because it gave credence and excuses for subsequent griping about the Bush's legitimacy as President.

And, of course, we have the recent ACA decision which was, and remains, ill-reported.

I think it was on CBS this past election night; did you hear the yip of joy from someone off-camera when the Warren versus Scott election came over the wire, less than 5 seconds before the broadcaster announced it on air? Surprise, surprise. And, the on-camera yips in 2000 when Florida fell for Gore before egg splattered on newscaster faces and it became a huge uh-oh moment.

No....naive and nefarious are characteristics of the MSM. That's why there is a credibility problem.

(Report Comment)

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