Sadly, Missouri has no credible effort underway to get public campaign financing adopted, so fair elections are a far off dream in this state. In fact, Missouri took two steps backward when the Republican legislature voted last year to lift all campaign contribution limits. We took one step forward when the Supreme Court reinstated those limits.
But the Ethics Commission is only tentatively taking its weight off one foot, dithering about whether to take the next step and force politicians to return over-limit contributions.
Republicans urge the Commission to wait until next spring and let the legislature deal with the problem. This is the same legislature that passed the original lift-all-limits law. Isn’t that like allowing a bank robber to decide whether he should return the boodle from his last heist? Only the Rs would propose such a solution with a straight face.
The Democrats point out that letting politicians keep over-limit contributions is unfair to candidates who filed after last July. It forces the later filers to play by a different set of financial rules.
Actually, the Commission ruled on this question last month and said that the over-limit money had to be returned, but the Republicans sued because the commission members had held a secret meeting, which the Sunshine law forbids. So now, the Commissioners have had a public meeting, but they’re skittish after their recent run-in with Republican howlers.
The commission asked its staff to tabulate how much money candidates collected this year in contributions exceeding the state’s contribution limits. St. Louis P-D
I wonder how long they can study the problem before it becomes a moot point. (You can’t give the money back if it’s spent.)
Meanwhile, Jim Trout, who sued over the no-cap-on-contributions law and won, is pleased that it has been thrown out and is hoping to see the legislature craft better campaign laws. He points out that the old law had bugs in it, but the no-cap solution was no solution. “Take the bugs out, but don’t use a Sherman Tank to do it,” he said in a PubDef interview last January.
What he means by “bugs” is that current law allows legislative committees to raise ten times as much money as any individual can give and there is no limit on how many legislative committees may be formed. Everybody and his brother can have one. Furthermore, as even Republicans correctly argue, those legislative committees are far less transparent than straight donations.
Trout would like to see two changes in election law. First, each PARTY should be allowed one PAC, with a set amount of donations allowed. That means two PACs in the state instead of dozens. Second, the campaign limits need to be raised. Inflation has taken a huge bite out of the limits passed a dozen years ago. Stamps have gone up, and so has air time.
I asked Trout whether there’s any reasonable chance of such legislation. He admitted that both Republicans and Democrats would fear losing their PACs. Still, optimist that he is, he thought it was possible.