Corruption in Jefferson City? What do you think? Today the AP writes that:
Campaign finance and ethics reform have taken a secondary position at the Capitol, where much of the focus has been on economic development, taxes and the state’s Medicaid health care program for the poor. Lawmakers have about a month left before their mandatory adjournment.
Currently, anyone with a legislative ax to grind can donate whatever they want to the lawmakers of their choice. The sky’s the limit. GOPers claim that that’s okay as long as folks know where the money’s coming from, but transparency rules are, in fact, not only very easy to evade, but, the evidence suggests, often evaded.
So, if the GOP lawmakers, the folks who currently control what gets done in Jefferson City, are both honest and serious about letting us know that everything is aboveboard, why aren’t they willing to let Democratic backed legislation to cap campaign donations make it out of committee? Are they afraid to publicly debate the question? And why do GOPers, many of whom are living high on lobbyists’ hogs, dismiss ethics legislation as just some airy-fairy nonsense that they may get around to when they aren’t busy with really important issues?
According to House Speaker Tim Jones, “lawmakers are focused on other issues this session that ‘impact Missourians more than an inside the Beltway ethics discussion.'” This dismissive attitude is mirrored by the Senate President Pro Tem, Republican Tom Dempsey, who claims that:
“We’ve been working on our business, pro-growth strategies, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to address those items – at least as Senate legislation this year,” said Dempsey, R-St. Charles. “But we’ll continue to take a look at them.”
Dare I suggest that one might ask about the “impact” on Missourians of empty conspiracy fads like the the United Nations Agenda 21 (a U.N. sustainability planning initiative, not ratified by the U.S. and with no bearing on U.S. law – although Senator Brian Nieves is sure that the federal government has rezoned land belonging to a couple of his constituents as part of its enforcement), or the nefarious efforts of the Department of Revenue to, according to various black helicopter enthusiasts, implement the federal real ID and/or register Missourians’ guns through the “back door.” All topics taken up by legislators who are too busy to deal with the perception of egregious ethics violations on their part.
Of course, the more important point is that the GOP’s putative “pro-growth” agenda, which is cited by Senator Dempsy, heavily favors corporate interests. And while I might be missing something, aren’t these the very entities that usually write those big, unlimited campaign checks and fund many of the lobbyists who ply Missouri statehouse denizens with fancy meals, tickets to sporting events and other thoughtful and expensive trinkets, spending in the process an amount in the vicinity of $1 million a year?
To a casual observer, it looks like those corporate interests are getting what they pay for. Consider the on-going effort to pass right-to-work bills, to take down prevailing wage laws, etc., all of which stiff the little guy to the benefit of those who hold the strings of the purses that pols depend on. Kansas City Star Jefferson City correspondent Jason Hancock writes:
Take, for example, the roughly $8,200 spent by a handful of lobbyists to treat lawmakers to meals last July in Salt Lake City at the convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council [i.e. ALEC], a conservative organization that has drawn criticism in recent years for its efforts to bring together corporations and lawmakers to craft bills for introduction in legislatures nationwide.
Which lawmakers made the trip to Utah and attended those get-togethers was not disclosed. Each of the lobbyists reported the gifts as going to the “entire General Assembly.”
No matter how you cut it, it doesn’t look good when several Missouri politicians manage to hide their cozy relationship with ALEC, which has been called “a corporate bill mill,” and which, according to Progress Missouri, has been responsible for more than 30 corporate-friendly bills introduced into the Legislature over the past decade.
Does any of this suggest that we’re dealing with more than the appearance of corruption, and that, at the very least, we should be concerned about who’s in the driver’s seat in Jefferson City?