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A press release from the Missouri Republican Party Chair, Ed Martin, has given us the GOP response to HB1340, the ethics reform bill sponsored by state Rep. Kevin McManus (D-036) which was written in collaboration with Secretary of State Jason Kander, also a Democrat. Martin’s take, which will presumably inform his fellow partisan’s talking points, is akin to Jesus’ dictum  that only those who are without sin should cast stones (John 8:7). Sadly, Martin is confused not only about what constitutes political sin, but about the distinction between punitive action – the analogue to the Pharisees effort to stone the woman taken in adultery – and proposals for reform that will benefit every honest actor in government – with the emphasis on honest.

First, a little background: It helps to know that Missouri is a wide-open state when it comes to pay-to-play politics; regulation is so minimal it is non-existent for all practical purposes, and, as a consequence, the home of Missouri political life, Jefferson City, has begun to give off a mighty foul stench. If you’re interested in the particulars, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has detailed some of the abuses in two recent editorials (here and here). Efforts to rectify the situation have been repeatedly stymied, presumably by the gangsters politicians who don’t want to give up the good thing they’ve got going. The Post-Dispatch summed up the process recently, noting that while members of both parties in the legislature are willing  talk a good game when it comes to ethics reform, so far a majority hasn’t been willing to play it out.

The Kander-McManus  bill, however, has real teeth. Do a Google search under the terms “Kander” and “ethics reform” and you’ll see heading after heading calling it a “sweeping reform.” While it may be a descriptive cliche, the label is apt. If adopted, the bill would greatly restrict the most egregious abuses, and represents a good first step toward reform even though it falls short of public-financing. Specifically, it “establishes campaign contribution limits, restricts lawmakers from lobbying or consulting during or immediately following their term, and gives significant new muscle to the Missouri Ethics Commission.”

So what’s Martin on about? Do you think that he might worry that an attack on political corruption could be seen as targeting Republicans? Could that be the reason he’s all “Golly Gee Willikers” about the fact that even Democratic politicians receive campaign donations, sometimes big ones, from supporters:

In 2013, Governor Nixon amassed over $500,000 in contributions over the $5,000 mark. He accepted over $118,045 from trial attorneys and law firms, over $11,000 from unions, and $95,000 from the healthcare industry.

Governor Nixon and Secretary Kander are pushing for stricter limits to current campaign ethics laws, while a noble gesture; they lack the credibility to lead on such reform. Missourians are tired of elected leaders’ talking out of both sides of their mouth,” said Ed Martin, Chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.”

Secretary of State Jason Kander accepted donations 19 times over the course of 2013 above the reforms he supports.

It’s at this point that Martin doesn’t seem to understand just where sin resides when it comes to money in politics. Notice that he doesn’t accuse either the Governor or Secretary Kander of any kind of quid pro quo, and, so far as I know, there’s been no indication of such behavior on the part of either man. It isn’t accepting money that’s bad, it’s selling government in return for that money. That said, it’s clear that there’s a crying need for some pretty strict rules to govern the way the money game is played, and I personally think that rather than invalidating the call for new rules, the fact that the call for reform comes from successful players gives it even more heft.

Which is why Martin’s pièce de résistance, a call for Nixon and Kander to sign a “pledge” promising to forego donations that exceed the limit proposed in Kander’s bill, and to return such large donations that were received in 2013, is so palpably silly. Who in God’s name thinks that unilaterally disarming the reformers would further the goal of reform? At any rate, neither Martin nor anyone else really has to worry about the credibility of the reformers to embrace obvious reforms. If a really “sweeping” ethics bill like that proposed by Kander and McManus, a bill that wields a great big industrial sized broom, is actually adopted, its provisions will apply to Governor Nixon and Jason Kander as well as to every other member of Missouri government. By any measure, when Kander stepped up to lead the ethics reform movement, he was doing just what Martin adjures him to do: trying to put into practice what he preaches.