JEFFERSON CITY - Saying it would reduce the influence of the "big money boys" at the Capitol, election reformers presented a plan this week to publicly finance races for the statehouse.
But an unusual coalition testified against the bill, saying it would force taxpayers to pay for campaigns of candidates they might not ever vote for and would trample on free speech.
"To paraphrase Ross Perot, that giant sucking sound we hear is our tax money going down the drain in exchange for our campaign donations," former lieutenant governor and two-time U.S. Senate candidate Harriet Woods told the House Critical Issues Committee on Tuesday.
Woods and other witnesses told lawmakers that funding campaigns was turning into an "arms race" that shuts out average voters and makes candidates too dependent on special interest money.
If the bill passes, candidates who agree to abide by voluntary spending limits and raise some initial $5 donations on their own would get money from the state treasury to run their campaigns. Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, is the bill's sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, is its House sponsor.
The bill has different requirements depending on the size of the office sought. For instance, candidates running for state representative would have to get $5 donations from 200 registered voters in their districts to qualify; those running for governor would have to get several thousand. House candidates would get $15,000 each for the primary and general elections; gubernatorial candidates would get a total of $2 million.
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Jacob told the Senate Elections Committee on Wednesday that the bill would level the playing field for candidates and free candidates from the burdensome demands of constant fundraising.
"I think people would appreciate hearing more from the candidates," Jacob said in an interview. "Now, we sit on the phone and beg for money." (optional trim three end)
Proponents of the bill estimated it would cost between $32 million and $40 million during a four-year election cycle. It would be paid for through the income tax.
"This isn't voluntary," said Mitch Moore of Columbia, a former Libertarian candidate for the Ninth Congressional District, saying taxpayers' funds would go to support candidates they might oppose. "It's not public financing, it's taxpayer financing."
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Representatives from the Missouri National Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union also testified against the bill. (optional trim two end)
Marsha Richeson, of the Eastern Missouri ACLU, questioned whether the bill would pass muster with the courts or run into problems regarding campaign contributions being considered a form of free speech. She said states can set floors on spending, but not ceilings.
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No action is typically taken on a bill during a committee hearing. Representatives of the Missouri Alliance for Coalition Reform said they plan to circulate petitions to get the bill's provisions enacted into law, in case the legislature takes no action.
"We're going to have to get into gear quick," said Mary Hussman of the Columbia chapter of the alliance. "We know that. We're ready to go."
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