What the IRS classifies as 501(c)(4) organizations — nonprofit groups that promote social welfare causes — do not have to disclose the names of donors while raking piles of money into Missouri politics.
We do know how much lobbyists give as “gifts” to influence our legislators. Mind you, Missouri is not alone here.
Ethics reform is something that is needed, especially considering recent Supreme Court decisions declaring corporations are people and money is free speech.
According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, published Tuesday on ColumbiaMissourian.com), nearly 80 percent of Missouri’s residents from both sides of the aisle — some say all four sides, but that is for another column — want to see some form of reform in terms of financial gifts given to our legislators. This would include:
- Stopping the gifting of tickets to sporting events and sporting trips.
- Limiting money spent on meals from lobbyists.
- Preventing legislative staff from accepting paid consultant positions.
- Requiring a waiting period before a legislator can become a lobbyist.
- Appointing the attorney general’s office to investigate “abuse and corruption.”
The problem is that such reforms are considered “progressive" and, therefore, fall off the Missouri GOP’s radar.
As of April 15, any attempt to consider reforms has been taken off the table — by its own sponsors. Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, originator of Senate Bill 966, removed the bill from consideration.
The bill would require a state legislator to finish his or her term before taking another position with the state or federal government or not get paid for the new job until the elective term is finished.
If the Democrats had their way, the bill would have also limited campaign contributions for in-state races. As proposed by Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, the bill would have limited campaign contributions to $2,500 for state House, $5,000 for state Senate and $10,000 for statewide non-federal races. This is money not covered in the Supreme Court decision.
The term being thrown around is “oligarchy,” where a small group of people — in this case through wealth or access to unlimited money — are in control. Some say that the term is limited to about 375 Americans who can afford and have the propensity for unlimited spending, like the neo-conservative Koch brothers or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the neo-liberal side.
The rest of us wonder how our voices can be heard without screaming at the top of our collective lungs. The din is so loud from special interest groups, lobbyists and political action committees that the screams from the middle class are rarely heard.
Without limits on donations, gifts provided or dinners served, without some boundary on what elected officials may do after they leave office or on the work staffers can do while employed by the state, our legislators will continue to do as the wealthy please.
Free speech is not limited to ideas and positions with which you may agree — the reason the American Civil Liberties Union defends the rights of neo-Nazis to march and hand out pamphlets.
It is why the Westboro Baptist Church can continue to protest near funerals and spout their misguided rhetoric. But these are the exceptions and not the rule.
Do we, as voters, need to finally tell our legislators that enough is enough, and if they do not self-regulate the outside influence then we may do it for them?
I believe so. I believe it is time for a citizen initiative to force campaign reform on those under the "Gray Dome."
I believe that the GOP and the Democrats need to get their acts together and put down rules that will give those with a vote in our elections the chance to voice our concerns on an equal footing, at least more equal footing, as those who have the money and, therefore, the power.
These limitations would fix a problem that does exist, contrary to what others believe. If the limitations must happen on local and state levels, so be it.
But it must be done soon before those who believe their voices are not being heard take the bull by the horns and force the legislation through ballot initiatives.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.