The Ethics Commission has defnitely ruled that over-limit campaign contributions will have to be returned. Sort of. Which is to say that private hearings will be conducted with candidates who want to claim that returning them would be a hardship. Such hearings might not conclude until February or March, and by then the legislature may well decide to pass another unlimited contribution law. (The Supreme Court ruled the last law unconstitutional because of the ban on raising funds while the legislature was in session. That part of the old law would be left out.)
In other words, as far as the Ethics Commission’s decision, it might all be moot. In fact, it is moot when you consider that getting around those bothersome campaign contribution limits is child’s play anyway. Instead of giving a lot of money in a lump sum, you distribute it to various campaign committees in several smaller sums. Or you do a Rex Sinquefield 100 PACs maneuver. Then, as Senate Majority Leader, Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, (pictured above) will tell you, you not only get to ignore the limits, you get to disguise where a candidate’s money actually comes from.
“I think that ought to send the message that really what you want is transparency. You want to know where the money comes from. And the more time and more places the money comes through, the harder it is to track its roots.”
Thus the solution, Shields will tell you, is to lift all limits. Sadly, even some democratic Senators agree with Shields, including Tim Green (Florissant), who introduced the original amendment, Chuck Graham (Columbia) and Chris Koster (Harrisonville).
But most Democrats would side with Senator Joan Bray (D-St. Louis), who says that any renewal of unlimited contributions legislation would likely be met with a filibuster from her party. Bray says the Republicans would have to move the previous question to pass the bill, referring to a parliamentary move that cuts off debate, one that used to be extremely rare but has been used increasingly by Republicans.
Whereas Shields argues for transparency, Bray argues that:
“The public thinks we’re all controlled by money, and we don’t need to do anything more to make that reality or perception,” Bray said. “The public strongly likes the idea of contribution limits. It has expressed that in votes in the past. And we should respect and not resort to indulging ourselves in unlimited contributions.”
Bray argues for legislation that would control the proliferation of PACs and political committees. Only a public campaign finance system would make more sense. But short of that, a Democrat needs to introduce legislation to control PACs.
Here’s an analogy: If people are finding embezzling too easy to get away with, Republicans think it would be wise to make the embezzlement easy to spot … and legal. They figure that if it’s easy to spot, the boss can fire the embezzler. Democrats want to make the embezzlement more difficult to achieve … and illegal.
There’s a no brainer.