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DAVID ROSMAN: Time for Missouri residents to demand campaign finance reform

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:52 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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.


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Comments

Mark Foecking April 23, 2014 | 8:34 a.m.

Last I heard, my vote counts just the same as Koch's or Bloomberg's.

You're assuming that legislators all start out as wide eyed idealistic liberals and are corrupted by big conservative money. In reality, special interests from all sides support those candidates that they agree with. Perhaps we don't need to spend so much money on campaigns (although it supports a lot of jobs around election time), but I don't see where big election spending has caused legislators to change the way they vote. Nationally, we're still split pretty evenly between R's and D' and that ratio hasn't really changed, even though election spending has exploded in recent elections.

If all this big money is influencing our legislators, why aren't all of them pro-wealth Republicans? We still each only have one vote, no matter how much money we have.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 23, 2014 | 9:04 a.m.

Certainly a good candidate for #2 priority; but let's briefly discuss priority #1.

"And to preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers* load us with perpetual debt." - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kerchavel, July 12, 1816

Jefferson seems able to have envisioned what might become the future ruination of the United States of America, whereas some folks today waltz around the problem.

There was apparently a dinner at the White House in the early 1960s at which President Kennedy hosted a distinguished group of American scientists; after dessert, JFK welcomed those assembled and observed that the guests constituted the greatest example of American intellect SINCE PRESIDENT JEFFERSON DINED, ALONE, IN THE WHITE HOUSE** in the 19th century.

It's the height of paradox that some intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals seem incapable of either properly ranking our national priorities OR confronting economic reality.

*- Jefferson's choice of "rulers," as opposed to "leaders," might be deemed significant. Old Tom could be sarcastic on occasion. :)
**- Emphasis mine.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 23, 2014 | 9:21 a.m.

PS: I posted my above comment without having noted DK's above comment. I absolutely agree with Mark - he has, as the old saying goes, hit the nail squarely on its head! Free speech seems to some ONLY "free" when it satisfies their version of matters. I am going to continue to insist that our Constitution isn't some *&$%@%$& restaurant menu, where one may conveniently select what he/she likes and then conveniently skip over the rest. If you don't like what's there, amend it. There's a way to do that.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 23, 2014 | 10:28 a.m.

Mark speaks to an issue I see too often, people thinking that because bad scary person (the Koch brothers, George Soros, etc.) once gave money to this person, then any legislation they propose must have been bought and sold by said nasty person and has to be opposed by all good people. I say they shouldn't look at who funds politicians, but be a damn good citizen, read proposed legislation, and then act based on what the freaking bill says.

The real problem is that most voters don't investigate ballot issues or candidates and vote for or against issues/candidates for totally arbitrary reasons. I've always been a Democrat, so I can't vote for a Republican, no matter what. I can't be bothered to read the actual issue on the ballot, I'll wait until I get to the polling place and read the unhelpful ballot summary language that was crafted by the legislator or organization that got it on the ballot.

People as a corporation or money as free speech are not recent issues, no matter what David Rosman writes in this piece.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 23, 2014 | 6:02 p.m.

Well, I was all ready to respond with caustic wit and intelligence, but then I read the posts of Ellis, Mark, and John.

There's nothing left to add.

Dang.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 23, 2014 | 10:31 p.m.

Actually, there IS something to add, from a 1932 speech by presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt (Pittsburgh, October 19, 1932).

"If the Nation is living within its income, its credit is good. If, in some crises, it lives beyond its income for a year ot two, it can usually borrow temporarily at reasonable rates. But if, like a spendthrift, it throws discretion to the winds...then it is on the road to bankruptcy."

Maybe that's why certain folks are trying hard to justify their stances by portraying America as being in a state of permanent crisis. Could be.

Silly me! We can ALWAYS print more paper money! That didn't work well in Argentina, Brazil, Germany or Greece, but of course it will work here. :)

(Report Comment)

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