Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«FC»«RM75»«MDBO»COL148.PRB - Deadly, Devious and Disabling Details«MDNM»
In the weeks before the 2015 legislative session, two issues have emerged as dominant -- Ferguson and government ethics.
Yet, I wonder whether conflicts over details will be fatal.
For years, I've seen well-intentioned efforts by Missouri public officials crash on the shores of details.
Think back to last year when legislative leaders expressed pride at pulling together a complex compromise on unaccredited school districts.
There was a detail that was missed. Gov. Jay Nixon objected to one aspect of the bill and vetoed it.
This year, a major issue involves the issues raised by Ferguson.
Missouri's incoming House speaker, John Diehl, has spoken eloquently about a desire to have the legislature address the underlying causes of what happened in Ferguson.
Yet, already disagreements over the details have emerged.
Democratic legislators propose mandatory sensitivity training for police, limits on police use of lethal force, outside review of police and restrictions on use of tear gas.
Those are ideas that I don't think will have much traction with many Republican lawmakers.
The dispute arose at the very first meeting of the legislative committee investigating Ferguson.
The chair said their work would be limited to the response to the grand jury decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot unarmed Michael Brown.
But a leading committee Democrat demanded the committee look at underlying community issues.
You sense things could be in trouble when legislators cannot even agree on what to talk about.
The other topic of 2015 that faces the threat of disagreement over details are legislative efforts to deal with the growth of special interest money in government and politics.
It's an issue that has lingered over government for as long as I've covered this place.
In the 1970s, legislation was passed that was supposed to have solved the problem by ending the secrecy in special interest money.
But a disabling detail was added that gave lobbyists a loophole to avoid naming legislators.
If a lobbyist provides meals, drinks or other gifts to an entire legislative committee, only the committee needs to be named as the recipient -- not the actual committee members who benefited.
The House subsequently created special committees that never got bills, but did get lobbyists' gifts.
What was supposed to be transparency in campaign contributions was sabotaged by the growth of national political action committees that dump massive amounts of cash into Missouri campaigns.
These PACs do not have to disclose their own donors. So all a Missouri candidate discloses is the PAC without any indication from where the PAC got its money.
The U.S. Supreme Court added another detail giving these special interests even more influence. The court held that an organization is free to spend as much as it wants advocating anything, including candidates.
Republicans have proposed more disclosure. But Democrats have argued strongly for restoration of voter-approved limits on how much any one source can contribute.
Their case was demonstrated earlier this month when wealthy retired financier Rex Sinquefield gave $1 million to fund a campaign for lieutenant governor by one of his operatives who has not even announced her candidacy.
It was an historic amount. And Sinquefield has dumped almost as much into a GOP gubernatorial candidate's campaign.
It adds fuel to the arguments of Democrats that there ought to be limits on individual contributions.
But Sinquefield demonstrated just a few years ago there are ways around limits.
In the 2008 primary when there were limits on campaign contributions, Sinquefield simply created and personally funded more than six dozen separate committees. Each of those committees then gave the maximum allowed to the candidate who became Missouri's current attorney general, Chris Koster.
Koster, by the way, spoke powerfully to a House committee earlier this month about the need to address the appearance of special interest money affecting government.
He did not, however, speak about limiting campaign contributions.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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