STL American: Yes on 1

Originally in the St. Louis American on October 11, 2018

The November 6 ballot in Missouri has a number of exciting statewide initiatives that should lure progressive voters to the polls – if saving a Democratic U.S. Senate seat (held by Claire McCaskill) and keeping an amazingly diligent and competent Democratic state auditor (Nicole Galloway) on the job aren’t enough. We previously endorsed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage (Yes on Proposition B) and to prudently legalize and regulate medical marijuana (Yes on Amendment 2 as the best of three proposals, Yes on Proposition C as a back-up, and no on Amendment 3, which would install the highest medical marijuana tax in the nation and create a private government body to administer the revenues). We also endorse an ambitious initiative to improve many problematic aspects of Missouri politics, Amendment 1.

Here are the facts on what Amendment 1 will do to clean up state politics, according to St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones (who also is a former assistant minority floor leader in the Missouri Legislature): “stop big money in the Legislature by lowering campaign contribution limits; require state government to be more transparent and stop any legislative fundraising on state property; eliminate fancy lobbyist gifts; stop the revolving door of legislators becoming lobbyists with a two-year waiting period; require fair state legislative maps to protect minorities’ political power and to ensure neither party is given an unfair advantage when new maps are drawn after the census.”

As Jones noted in her op-ed last week, Amendment 1 has been endorsed by the NAACP, Organization for Black Struggle (OBS), Rev. Starsky Wilson and Deaconess Foundation, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Metropolitan Congregations United, Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould and Missouri Faith Voices, Rasheen Aldridge, Missouri Jobs with Justice and the League of Women Voters. “Amendment 1 incorporates the Voting Rights Act into the Missouri Constitution so that marginalized constituents, like African Americans, will be fairly represented in the political process,” said Jamala Rogers, executive director and a founding member of OBS.

Nimrod (Rod) Chapel Jr., president of the NAACP Missouri State Conference and an early proponent of Amendment 1, noted that opponents of Amendment 1 “are spewing lies to protect the broken status quo, because they know they can’t win on the merits.” Among other claims, those trying to defeat the initiative have tried to appeal to black voters – and, especially, elected officials – by saying a redistricting that made more legislative districts competitive would also make it harder for black candidates to get elected. While Chapel, Rogers, Jones and ourselves all dispute that claim, we consider it absolutely indisputable that a redistricting process that eliminated the Republican super-majority in the Legislature would be good for all but the wealthiest and most conservative of Missourians. Certainly, it would be good for African Americans and Missouri’s largest urban areas, especially St. Louis, which drive the state’s economy while being starved of a fair share of funding by out-state Republican legislators who, selfishly and shortsightedly control budget priorities.

“We’ve been kicked out of public hearings,” Treasurer Jones wrote. “Government meetings have been held in back rooms of country clubs. The Legislature keeps its records secret, yet expects others to follow open government laws. It’s time for Amendment 1 to bring it all into the open for the people to see.” We agree. We strongly endorse a vote of YES ON AMENDMENT 1.

READ MORE

Billionaire Rex Sinquefield Financing Effort to Stop Amendment 1

The Clean Missouri campaign in support of Amendment 1 released the following statement tonight in response to the Missourians First front group’s disclosure of a $200,000 contribution from billionaire Rex Sinquefield:

“It’s no surprise that a billionaire political donor like Rex Sinquefield is trying to protect the corrupt status quo. Big money and powerful lobbyists, including many on his payroll, run the show in Jefferson City—which is why a bipartisan coalition of more 300,000 Missourians, the AARP, Sen. John Danforth, the League of Women Voters, Missouri Faith Voices and so many others have come together to clean up Missouri politics.

“Sinquefield’s personal attorney sued to keep Amendment 1 off the ballot, and lost badly. They’re going to lose badly again on November 6 when Missourians vote Yes on Amendment 1.” 

Sinquefield has previously exploited an enormous loophole that will be closed by Amendment 1. The loophole allows him and other big money donors to circumvent voter-approved campaign contribution limits by creating and funding an unlimited number of PACs to donate to a single political candidate.

At least seven individuals are formally registered to lobby in Jefferson City for Sinquefield and his front groups at this time. Amendment 1 would eliminate all lobbyist gifts worth more than $5.

Also, Sinquefield’s personal attorney was a member of the 2012 Senate Apportionment Commission, as part of the state’s current redistricting process that has been dominated by lobbyists, political consultants and politicians. Amendment 1 will ensure that no political party has an unfair advantage in future redistricting plans by adding new rules for transparency, new criteria for partisan fairness and competitiveness, new protections for minority representation, and new independence to the map-drawing process.

A growing number of Republicans, Democrats, independents, and editorial boards across the state have publicly endorsed the full package of desperately needed reforms in the Clean Missouri initiative.

Amendment 1’s endorsements include:

  • AARP
  • The League of Women Voters of Missouri
  • Missouri Faith Voices
  • Former U.S. Senator John Danforth (R)
  • Former U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan (D)
  • Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph)
  • Former Sen. Jim Lembke (R-Lemay)
  • Former Sen. Marvin Singleton (R-Joplin)
  • Former Senator and current Councilmember Bob Johnson (R-Lee’s Summit)
  • Paul DeGregorio, appointed Chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission by President George W. Bush, and former GOP St. Louis County Election Board Director
  • National conservative reform expert Trevor Potter, appointed to the Federal Election Commission by President George H.W. Bush, and current president of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center
  • Rev. Starsky D. Wilson, President & CEO of Deaconess Foundation and Pastor of Saint John’s Church
  • St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Common Cause
  • End Citizen United
  • Metropolitan Congregations United
  • Missouri AFL-CIO
  • Missouri Jobs With Justice Voter Action
  • Missouri Rural Crisis Center
  • NAACP Missouri State Conference
  • Organization for Black Struggle
  • Represent.Us
  • Take Back Our Republic

Plus a growing number of editorial boards, including the:

  • Washington Missourian
  • Columbia Daily Tribune
  • Kansas City Star
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Here are the facts on what Amendment 1 will do:

  • lower campaign contribution limits for state legislative candidates
  • eliminate almost all lobbyist gifts in the General Assembly
  • require that legislative records be open to the public
  • require politicians to wait two years before becoming lobbyists
  • ensure that neither political party is given an unfair advantage when new maps are drawn after the next census, by adding criteria for fairness and competitiveness of the overall map, which will be reviewed by a citizen commission and keep compact and contiguous districts
READ MORE

Tishaura O. Jones: “Amendment 1 will make our voices matter more in Jefferson City”

This op-ed originally appeared in the St. Louis American, September 28, 2018

You’ve heard me say it before: We have been disenfranchised and flat-out ignored for way too long. The rich and well-connected call the shots in Jefferson City. Meanwhile, regular folks and families in our neighborhoods struggle to pay the bills. But this November, we have a chance to take power away from the big money forces who run Jefferson City, and take it back for regular folks, by voting YES for Amendment 1.

Here are the facts on what Amendment 1 will do to clean up state politics: stop big money in the legislature by lowering campaign contribution limits; require state government be more transparent and stop any legislative fundraising on state property; eliminate fancy lobbyist gifts; stop the revolving door of legislators becoming lobbyists with a two year waiting period; require fair state legislative maps to protect minorities’ political power and to ensure neither party is given an unfair advantage when new maps  are drawn after the census.

Amendment 1 enshrines the Voting Rights Act into the Missouri Constitution to protect our right to vote in majority-minority districts. Amendment 1 puts working families first, instead of lobbyists and big money.

The strong, commonsense policy is why it’s been endorsed by the NAACP, Organization for Black Struggle, Rev. Starsky Wilson and Deaconess Foundation, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Metropolitan Congregations United, Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould and Missouri Faith Voices, Rasheen Aldridge, and Missouri Jobs with Justice. It’s also been endorsed by the League of Women Voters, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, and many others because it will increase integrity, transparency, and accountability in state government.

Don’t be duped by the lobbyists and a small group of politicians in Jefferson City opposing Amendment 1. They are the same people who took away the wage increases the people of this city won fair and square. They are backed by the same forces who pushed SB43 to legalize discrimination. They have tried every way they know how to make it harder to vote. When is the last time they cared about our families and our communities?

Amendment 1 will make our voices matter more in Jefferson City. And that’s exactly what they’re afraid of.

We’ve been kicked out of public hearings. Government meetings have been held in back rooms of country clubs. The legislature keeps their records secret, yet expects others to follow open government laws. It’s time for Amendment 1 to bring it all into the open for the people to see.

Getting big money out of politics means legislators have to listen to the folks back home, who have been left out of the conversation in the Capitol. Ensuring fair legislative districts means our voices cannot be diminished in Jefferson City.

It’s time to give every community a seat at the table. To learn more, visit CleanMissouri.org. And then join me in voting YES for Amendment 1 this November to clean up Missouri politics.

Tishaura O. Jones is the treasurer of the City of St. Louis and former assistant minority floor leader in the Missouri Legislature.

READ MORE

Republican Support for Amendment 1 Continues to Grow

The Clean Missouri campaign today announced that former State Senator Marvin Singleton (R-Joplin) and Union Mayor Mike Livengood formally endorsed Amendment 1, joining the broad, bipartisan coalition working to clean up Missouri politics.

Singleton is a Republican who represented the Joplin area. He said:

“As a sixth generation Missourian and former Republican State Senator, I have dedicated my life to public service. So I know firsthand that we need to clean up Jefferson City. Amendment 1 will empower the voters and change how business is done at the Capitol. Please join me in supporting Clean Missouri—Amendment 1.”

Sen. Singleton is past president of the Missouri Republican Association and is a Life Member of the National Rifle Association. He is retired from practicing medicine as a doctor in Joplin. He has been the local coordinator for several VIP visits to Joplin, including past presidents and vice presidents.

Mike Livengood is the Mayor of Union, in Franklin County. He said:

“I’m a conservative in favor of Amendment 1 because the General Assembly should have to follow the same transparency laws as other parts of government. As a local elected official with over 20 years in office, I know that public service is about listening to the voters, not collecting giveaways from special interests and lobbyists. It’s time to clean up Missouri politics.”

Mayor Livengood is a lifelong Union resident who founded, owned, and ran his own company, Livengood’s Transmissions, for 30 years.

Singleton and Livengood are joined in the public support for Amendment 1 by many fellow Republicans, including former U.S. Senator John Danforth, State Senator Rob Schaaf, former State Senator Bob Johnson, former State Senator Jim Lembke, and Representative Nick Marshall.

When passed, Amendment 1 will:

  • eliminate almost all lobbyist gifts in the General Assembly
  • require that legislative records be open to the public
  • lower campaign contribution limits for state legislative candidates
  • require politicians to wait two years if they want to become lobbyists, and
  • ensure that neither political party is given an unfair advantage when new maps are drawn after the next census.
READ MORE

Keep the ‘Clean Missouri’ initiative alive for November

Originally posted on September 17 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Think of political corruption in Missouri government as a jigsaw puzzle, composed of interlocking pieces: State legislators have freewheeling power to raise money from lobbyists. Those lobbyists can give personal gifts to those lawmakers, while urging them to pass laws that serve their high-paying clients.

Gerrymandered districts keep incumbents comfortably in office, letting them take care of the lobbyists without fear of genuine election challenges. When they finally do leave office, the lobbyists get them cushy lobbying jobs, where they can influence their former legislative colleagues, beginning the cycle all over again.

It all fits together to form the broader picture of the ethics (or lack of it) of Jefferson City. They are all part of the same problem — so it makes sense to reform them all at once. A judge’s ruling last week failed to recognize the need for sweeping change, throwing a comprehensive reform package off the November ballot on grounds that it addresses more than one topic. But reform is the topic. The effort should be upheld on appeal.

Amendment 1 on the Nov. 6 Missouri ballot — the “Clean Missouri” initiative — would take the power to redraw legislative districts away from politicians and give it to a nonpartisan expert and a citizen commission, with the goal of un-gerrymandering the system. It would also lower campaign-contribution limits, eliminate most lobbyist gifts to legislators, impose a two-year waiting period on ex-lawmakers becoming lobbyists and would open legislative records.

Opponents allege it’s a power play by Democrats to undermine Republican control of state government, but that’s never made sense. The measure is supported by former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth and other prominent Republicans; the ballot language was certified by Missouri Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. The redistricting and ethics provisions equally affect incumbents of both parties — which is their real problem with it.

As three current or former Republican legislators put it in today’s accompanying op-ed piece in defense of the ballot measure: “This isn’t about one party versus another. This is about voters versus corruption, secrecy, and special interests.”

So it’s no wonder the politician-lobbyist cartel is desperate to stop this from getting in front of the voters. A Republican voter and the head of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry sued, alleging it violates the requirement that ballot initiatives address only one topic at a time. Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green agreed Friday.

Proponents vowed to appeal, arguing the measure is indeed about just one topic: the rules governing the Legislature. They’re right, and they should move aggressively to keep it on the ballot. More than 300,000 Missourians put it there with their signatures; the rest of us should have the chance to finish what they’ve started.

 

READ MORE

Amendment 1: Missourians versus lobbyists

Op-Ed by state Senator Rob Schaaf and former Senators Jim Lembke and Bob Johnson originally posted on September 17 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

This week should bring an important victory for voters over Missouri’s corrupted politics, as an appellate court is poised to keep Amendment 1 on the statewide ballot to clean up Jefferson City.

We’ve served in the Missouri House and Senate and watched as powerful lobbyists, big money and partisan insiders steamroll the will of Missourians. That’s why we filed an amicus brief in support of Amendment 1 because it will force legislators to pay more attention to their constituents, not special interests.

You may have heard that three lobbyists are suing to stop Missourians from voting for Amendment 1 to clean up state politics. These lobbyists want legislators to be able to keep taking an average of nearly $900,000 in gifts from lobbyists every year — while ignoring voters back home.

The lobbyists are throwing the kitchen sink at the initiative to stop it, including a “single-subject” challenge, but we have good news: They are wrong. When it comes to Amendment 1, the law is on Missourians’ side.

We agree with Attorney General Josh Hawley’s legal brief on Amendment 1: “The measure, if enacted by the voters, would promote transparency and accountability in the General Assembly.” He wrote that Amendment 1’s “single subject, and central purpose, is to regulate limited aspects of the Missouri General Assembly and its members.”

Of course, it’s no wonder that these lobbyists are out of touch with the people and laws of Missouri. Their lawsuit is being funded by a secretive group in Virginia, registered by a law firm that specializes in “untraceable pressure groups.” Amendment 1, on the other hand, was signed by over 300,000 Missourians, from every county in Missouri, gathered by over 1,500 volunteers.

Here are the facts:

• The single subject, “regulating the legislature,” was certified by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.

• The initiative is in line with other initiatives and bills that have withstood frivolous single-subject challenges, and the judgment should be reversed.

• Amendment 1 is supported by a bipartisan coalition of reformers, including former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.

• Amendment 1 would eliminate expensive lobbyist gifts, require legislative records be open to the public, lower campaign contribution limits, stop legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving the Legislature, and add independence, transparency, fairness and competitiveness to our redistricting process.

In our brief co-signed by watchdog Common Cause, we wrote: “The will of the voters should determine who legislates and what influences legislative decisions. The Clean Missouri initiative seeks to enact this fundamental principle. … The voters of Missouri rather than the courts should decide the fate of this important initiative.”

We have a bipartisan problem. While legislators take unlimited gifts from lobbyists, 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans coast to re-election in uncompetitive districts. President Ronald Reagan called gerrymandering a “national scandal” and an “anti-democratic and un-American practice.” Indeed, year after year, Missouri legislators of both parties are re-elected in safe districts drawn by lobbyists, politicians and partisan insiders, evading accountability for their actions in the Legislature.

Amendment 1 is a bipartisan solution to ensure politicians are accountable to the people. It incorporates important redistricting principles of fairness and competitiveness advocated for at the national level by leading members of our party, including former Sen. Danforth, Gov. John Kasich, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Sen. Bob Dole and the late Sen. John McCain, who jointly signed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in another lawsuit.

Amendment 1 also maintains requirements for compact and contiguous districts, and would add new requirements for following city and county lines, ensuring no party gets an unfair advantage, and protecting minority representation. It would have an independent expert draw maps to be reviewed and voted on by a citizen commission, after taking public testimony.

This isn’t about one party versus another. This is about voters versus corruption, secrecy, and special interests.

Seeing the desperation of these three lobbyists to keep their stranglehold on Missouri politics makes it more important than ever to put the Legislature back in the hands of its intended rulers: the people of Missouri.

We expect a favorable ruling for voters, and we’ll be voting yes on Amendment 1 this November to clean up Missouri politics.

READ MORE

Voters deserve a say. Clean Missouri ethics initiative belongs on the November ballot

Originally posted on September 17 by the Kansas City Star:

On Thursday, judges on a Missouri appeals court could prevent serious damage to the state’s petition process, and the people’s right to vote.

They should seize that opportunity by restoring the so-called Clean Missouri ethics initiative to the November ballot.

Last week, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ordered the state to strike the initiative. The proposal — Amendment 1 — offers several changes to the state’s constitution, all involving the state legislature.

The amendment includes lobbying restrictions and a limit on lobbyist gifts, redistricting reform, campaign finance reform and changes to make state government more transparent. Green decided the measure contained too many different subjects, a process he called “logrolling.”

“The Court’s review of this Bunyanesque initiative leaves this Court with an abiding conviction that it is the quintessential logroll,” Green wrote.

His ruling leaves us with an abiding conviction that he removed the measure from the ballot for partisan reasons.

Judge Green is a Republican. The plaintiffs’ case was argued by Edward Greim, who is the law partner of Todd Graves, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. Other Republican lawmakers have opposed the Clean Missouri proposal.

It isn’t clear why the GOP is so resistant to needed ethics reforms in Jefferson City or why the party is so afraid of letting the people decide this issue. Limits on lobbying and drawing legislative districts more fairly should be supported by every Missourian who wants open, honest government.

It’s true that Democrats are involved in the Clean Missouri project. But they aren’t trying to impose ethics reforms on Missouri; they’re simply seeking a statewide vote. Republicans should support that, too.

Some Republicans understand this. Former Sen. Jack Danforth has endorsed Amendment 1, and a trio of current and former GOP state lawmakers has filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the measure is ballot-worthy.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, says the Clean Missouri initiative involves a single subject and should go to voters. Clean Missouri submitted more than 340,000 signatures asking that the proposal go on the November ballot.

They all understand what Green does not: In Missouri, ballot initiatives must be interpreted broadly, with every close call going to the people — not legislators, lobbyists or judges.

“The trial court’s judgment must be reversed because it misapplied the law,” Clean Missouri supporters told the appeals court in a brief filed over the weekend. “The people should be allowed to vote on the wisdom of the measure.”

We agree. If opponents of Clean Missouri want to argue against it, or claim Missouri’s legislature is a model of ethical behavior now, they should do so in a campaign.

They should not be allowed to use the courts to circumvent the judgment of Missourians.

The Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City will hear arguments in the case Thursday, and may rule that day. All Missourians who believe in clean, open government will be watching.

 

READ MORE

The Campaign Legal Center: “If enacted, the initiative will institute practical methods for ensuring that each vote matters as much as the next.”

Originally posted on September 10 by the Campaign Legal Center:

New Ballot Initiative Promises to Minimize Republican and Democratic Gerrymanders in Missouri

Clean Missouri has proposed a new ballot initiative that promises to make Missouri elections fairer and more transparent. This plan will minimize the gerrymanders by either party by having a nonpartisan state demographer draw the redistricting map. A bipartisan citizen’s commission, composed of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats from around the state, may make minor changes to the map if seven-tenths of the commissioners approve.

Currently, a bipartisan commission selected by the Governor and the majority and minority party leaders in the Missouri legislature draw Missouri’s House of Representatives maps. State Senate maps are also drawn by a bipartisan commission selected by the state committee for the two largest parties and the Governor. While the bipartisan nature of these commissions are appealing, the members of the commissions tend to have extreme conflicts of interest as they are often lobbyists and political consultants.

Clean Missouri’s ballot initiative prevents this sort of malfeasance by mandating that the nonpartisan demographer not have served in a partisan elected position for four years prior to appointment. The proposal also excludes the nonpartisan demographer from holding office as a member of the general assembly for four years thereafter.

According to Wendy Underhill, a redistricting expert with the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures, “There has been more interest this year than in the last few years, and perhaps ever, on changing how redistricting is conducted. Some reformers—inside legislatures and outside—are seeking to move to commissions, and specifically commissions that are at arm’s length from politics, if that is possible. Most reform proposals, like the one in Missouri, include a change in the criteria used for drawing maps as well. This year, for instance, legislators in Colorado and Ohio have sent measures to the voters with overwhelming bipartisan support to change the methodology to increase the level of bipartisanship in mapdrawing, and citizens in Utah and Michigan gathered signatures to put citizens initiatives on November’s statewide ballots as well.”

Missouri’s current maps were drawn in 2012 and exhibit signs of gerrymandering. In the 2016 state house elections, Republicans in Missouri received 59% of the vote and yet were able to control 72% of the seats in the Missouri House. This indicates that Republicans were able to turn their votes into seats more efficiently than Democrats, which is a telltale sign of rampant gerrymandering and a lack of partisan fairness.

Political scientists quantify the difference in each party’s ability to turn votes into seats by using a measure called the efficiency gap. Minority parties in states with high efficiency gaps often won’t be able to gain a majority of the seats in future elections, even if they receive a majority of votes in future elections.

Democratic and Republican incumbents are similarly guilty of manipulating the redistricting process to their benefit by drawing districts to ensure that they get reelected, with minimal concern for fairness criteria such as contiguity, compactness, preservation of communities of interest, and respect for political subdivisions. In fact, scholars have drawn maps of Missouri with lower efficiency gaps than the current map and that meet more of the fairness criteria than the current map.

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this initiative is pending. However, it is premised on ideas that are demonstrably false. In the lawsuit, the Plaintiff assumes that the state demographer “will be forced either to draw noncontiguous districts (say, mixing a district of rural Missouri in with a slice of St. Louis or Kansas City) or conical districts that link slivers of traditional urban communities with swaths of rural Missouri.”

Fair maps that maintain communities of interest and adhere to other fairness criteria have already been drawn for Missouri. Maps like these have not yet been implemented because the people currently in charge of drawing maps have other priorities, such as keeping their seat and winning more seats for their party by any means, including diluting the votes of the opposing party.

This mentality is incredibly dangerous. Due to recent technological advancements and the wealth of personal information available to the public, partisan map drawers are able to gerrymander a map with surgical precision, carefully cracking and packing a map so that their party of choice will have more seats than votes.

The proponents of the Clean Missouri ballot initiative believe that voters should choose politicians, not the other way around. If enacted, the initiative will institute practical methods for ensuring that each vote matters as much as the next.

READ MORE

Eat, drink and be corrupt — the Missouri Legislature’s way

Originally posted on September 8 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Like the annual late-summer return of some destructive insect, political fundraisers will swarm all over Jefferson City this week, coinciding with the one-day veto session of the Missouri Legislature. Lobbyists will gather in bars and restaurants at the invitation of the lawmakers they lobby. They’ll nibble on hors d’oeuvres, sip beer or liquor and hand over checks, generally tucked into little white envelopes. They’ll eat, drink and revel long into the night. Then, on Wednesday, those lawmakers will head for the House and Senate floors to take votes that may affect the fortunes of those lobbyists.

About half the states in America don’t allow their legislators to fund-raise while they’re in session, in recognition of how much such financial influence looks like legalized bribery. But Missouri lawmakers, seldom concerned with such ethical niceties, have more than two-dozen fundraising events scheduled between Monday and Wednesday, some of them physically within sight of the Capitol or a few steps from the Governor’s Mansion.

Banning this brazen practice isn’t among the batch of ethics ideas being considered as either pending legislation or current ballot measures. Reformers should start laying groundwork to change that.

The annual spate of fundraisers during veto-session week has become a nefarious tradition in Jefferson City. The lawmakers who participate often rake in tens of thousands of dollars each in a few short days, generally comprising their single biggest funding score for the year. A study by the National Institute for Money in State Politics found that, in 2014, Missouri legislators brought in $796,000 in donations during those precious few days.

There’s no reason to believe the envelopes have gotten any thinner since then. As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson reported recently, this year’s 25 scheduled events involve more than 70 lawmakers, many teaming up to raise funds jointly.

Some will be held in bars, lending a party-like atmosphere to soften the edges of what’s going on here. Others — like the one with Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, and former Rep. Sheila Solon, running for a St. Joseph-area seat — will eliminate the middleman and invite lobbyists to party right there in the downtown offices of their campaign consultant.

At a restaurant across the street, another joint fundraiser will include Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, who is the incoming House speaker next year. Is any lobbyist worth his pinstripes going to miss that one?

Missouri is lax on political ethics in so many ways — unlimited donations, unfettered lobbyist gifts, revolving-door lobbying jobs — that it’s easy for a one-week-per-year embarrassment like the veto-session fundraisers to get put on the back burner by political reformers, both within and outside the Legislature.

But the troubling symbolism alone of this tradition spawns a stink that lingers long after autumn. Getting this unacceptable practice banned before its 2019 return should be on reformers’ agenda.

 

READ MORE

Clean Missouri Brings Amendment 1 Fight to Sedalia

Originally posted on August 28 by the Sedalia Democrat:

With the promise of cleaning up Missouri politics, endorsers of Amendment 1 stood resolutely at the Pettis County Courthouse on Tuesday in support of the upcoming ballot measure

A short lineup of speakers, flanked by supporters holding “Yes on 1” signs, gave remarks during an endorsement press conference on the courthouse’s first floor.

The measure, also known as Clean Missouri, will appear on General Election ballots Nov. 6 and propose a new amendment to the Missouri State Constitution.

Clean Missouri seeks to draw new non-partisan districts for the Missouri State Legislature, make records of legislative meetings open, reduce campaign contributions, nearly eliminate lobbyist gifts and require state politicians to wait two years before becoming lobbyists.

“Rather than focusing on our citizens, our legislators are stuck in a cycle of gamesmanship and attacks that are more about their political team than the voters they’re supposed to represent,” former state Sen. Bob Johnson said in his remarks. “I’ve served in both the Missouri House and Senate. I’ve seen the system fail Missourians firsthand.”

Johnson, a Lee’s Summit Republican, focused particularly on redrawing district lines for the state legislature. He argued that few of the elections in the current legislative map have been competitive.

“It’s been terrible,” he told the Democrat. “It’s almost always all over in August (after) the primary.”

The state legislature last redrew its districts in 2011 after the 2010 U.S. Census. It will have to adjust its maps for the state Senate and House of Representatives after the next census in 2020.

Clean Missouri has proposed having a non-partisan state demographer draw legislative districts that are compact and competitive. These districts, drawn in 2020, would then be subject to review by a citizen commission.

Districts should reflect city borders, county lines, school districts and political subdivisions among Missourians, said Johnson, who served in the state House from 1973 to 1977 and 2003 to 2007 and in the Senate from 1980 to 1994.

Johnson was involved in a bi-partisan citizen group in 2011 that attempted to draw new legislative districts. During his Sedalia visit, he denounced the maps that the legislature ultimately finalized in 2011 and 2012, saying they are “crafted to protect powerful incumbents.”

“(Amendment 1) finally gives some professionalism to it and also objectivity,” Johnson said. “The system now, my history with it certainly hasn’t worked. It doesn’t work, so let’s try something that’s a little more professional.”

Amendment 1 also seeks to cap campaign contributions at $2,500 for the state Senate and $2,000 for the House. Missouri law allows a donor to give a maximum of $2,600 for both.

It would also ban any gift from a lobbyist to a legislator that cost more than $5. This would eliminate more than 99 percent of lobbyist gifts to the state legislature, according to the Clean Missouri website.

Kathleen Boswell, of Sedalia, endorsed Amendment 1 on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Missouri. Boswell, the organization’s president, said the league’s values go hand-in-hand with Clean Missouri’s initiative to limit the influence of wealthy donors and lobbyists in Jefferson City.

Local constituents should have the greatest impact on state politicians, she said, not corporations or political action committees.

“As long as there’s such big money in the campaigning, the average Joe (or) Jody doesn’t have a chance to run,” Boswell said. “That falls right in with our mission all along, having a responsive and educated public to vote but then to also serve.”

Judy Hackworth, a retired teacher, was the final speaker during the endorsement press conference, participating as a concerned citizen.

She encouraged voters to take back their elections from lobbyists and wealthy donors, who lead politicians to contradict their constituents’ views.

“I want, along with you, for my voice to be counted,” Hackworth said in her address. “I, along with you, want my needs and concerns to not be overshadowed by big businesses, large donors and special interest groups.”

READ MORE