Herald-Whig: Yes on 1

Originally printed in the Herald-Whig on November 1, 2018

If the recent political scandal that consumed the office of the Missouri governor and forced the resignation of Eric Greitens has taught us anything, it’s that something must be done to rein in the flow of dark money into campaigns and to put an end to the influence it has.

While Greitens campaigned on a call for transparency and banned members of his administration from accepting gifts from lobbyists, he soon changed colors and refused to release information about how much lobbyists and corporations paid to help fund his inaugural ball.

The taint of dark money extends to the General Assembly, as well, where the Missouri Senate turned back a 2017 ethics reform measure.

So it’s clear if there is to be any sort of meaningful change in how politics operates in the Show Me State, it will not come from Jefferson City.

Enter Amendment 1.

The so-called Clean Missouri amendment is a bold, voter-driven effort to root corruption out of the capital and return Missouri’s political process to a system that benefits voters, not donors. And since legislators clearly cannot be trusted to clean up their own mess, voters have a chance Nov. 6 to send a resounding message across the country.

Among the common-sense proposals:

  • All lobbying gifts in the General Assembly worth more than $5 will be banned. Lobbyists barely will be able to buy lawmakers a latte, greatly diminishing their influence.
  • Politicians leaving office will not be allowed to become lobbyists until two years after their last session is over. Waiting one full session will force them to find other employment and would serve to cut some ties between lawmakers they might have served with.
  • New, lower limits will be set for campaign contributions for General Assembly candidates: $2,500 for the Senate and $2,000 for the house.
  • People and groups will be limited in their attempts to circumvent caps by giving money to single-source “committees.” That money will need to be reported and will count toward the total of the original, actual donors.
  • Legislative fundraising will be banned on state property.

But it isn’t just money in Amendment 1’s aim. Transparency and fairness also will be top of mind.

All legislative records would become open to the public, the same as every other public entity in Missouri.

And a new position called the state demographer would be created and chosen through a bipartisan process that would add competitiveness to districts and make sure minority voices are heard.

For those wondering whether a bipartisan process to choose an independent demographer to take the lead on redistricting would work, we would point to the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan by which members of the judiciary are chosen. Originating in 1940, the plan has been emulated in several other states. We feel the role of the nonpartisan demographer would once again put Missouri on the cutting edge of a new wave of governmental reforms.

Amendment 1 has received bipartisan acclaim, from Republicans like former U.S. Sen. John Danforth to Democrats like former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Is the plan perfect? That’s doubtful. But it’s an important step that would send a strong, clear message to Jefferson City that voters are taking back their state government, that they will no longer stand by and let lobbyists run their state and that they want all their neighbors to be counted.

We can’t think of a better message to send to lawmakers anywhere.

We urge Missourians to vote Yes on Amendment 1.

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Bolivar Herald-Free Press: Yes on 1

Originally printed in the Bolivar Herald-Free Press on October 31, 2018:

Amendment 1 (Campaign finance, ethics reform) — Qualified yes

Amendment 1, after clearing weeks of legal challenges, will ask Missouri voters to approve sweeping political and legislative changes.

The most controversial of these involves removing the power to draw legislative district maps from legislators and placing it in the hands of a nonpartisan demographer, with changes still subject to potential overrule by senate and house commissions.

For the first time, “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” would be factors in the shaping of those districts.

Opponents of the amendment have gone so far as to invoke the negative term “gerrymandering” when describing the initiative. But, by definition, “gerrymandering” means redrawing districts in such a way to give one political party or group an advantage. This initiative seeks to do just the opposite.

Opponents further argue that the fairness and competitiveness criteria would mean (1) some odd-shaped districts and (2) challenges for legislators trying to represent a more diverse — both in terms of geography, in some cases, and in terms of partisanship.

A look at Missouri’s existing district map may lead some to consider the first point moot. And the initiative’s language includes the requirement that districts include “contiguous territory” and be “as compact” as possible. It also stipulates areas meeting only at “the points of adjoining corners” are not “contiguous.”

It also says the number of counties and cities divided should be “as small as possible.”

And as for the latter argument, that is indeed the entire point — to move toward districts where ideas, and not partisanship, are king.

Fairness in the amendment is defined as parties being “able to translate their popular support into legislative representation with approximately equal efficiency” and would be calculated by comparing the number of wasted votes — votes above and below the 50-percent majority threshold — for each party. The goal is to have the difference between each party’s wasted votes as close to zero as is “practicable.”

Competitiveness is defined as both parties’ legislative representation being “substantially and similarly responsive to shifts in the electorate’s preferences.”

And the measure, which has received bipartisan support, would also mean reduced campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates, a $5-cap on lobbyist gifts, prohibition of fundraising on state property and the subjection of legislative records and proceedings to Missouri open records law.

Those inclusions are what really tip the scale for us.

Keep in mind, as an amendment, this initiative if passed could not be reversed by lawmakers.

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Richmond Daily News: Yes on 1

Everyday Missourians decided to do what lawmakers lacked the integrity to do, try to clean up Missouri politics by putting Amendment 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot, and voters should vote for the initiate, called Clean Missouri.

Reasons to vote for Amendment 1 include bipartisan support from those outside of the lobbyist-befouled halls of Jefferson City. Among supporters are  leading Republicans, former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; and present U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican, and Reps. Martha Stevens and Nick Marshall, a Democrat and a Republican.

More important than who supports the measure is what the measure will do. A “yes” vote would make changes to the state’s lobbying laws, to campaign finance limits for legislative candidates and to the legislative redistricting process.

Regarding lobbying, Missourians have long opposed lobbyists giving gifts to lawmakers. Some who receive those gifts have told us, dismissively, they cannot be bought with free tickets to games and dinner nights on the town. If not, then they should long ago have placed a ban on such gifts. But they did not.  Amendment 1 would end the freebies.

Missourians are opposed to rich people, like St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield, being able to write out million-dollar checks to candidates. Anyone who does not understand that he wants something in return for the money – the assurance about where a candidate will stand on particular issues, such as the right-to-work law – is naive. Neither Sinquefield nor Democrat billionaire donor George Soros should be able to throw their dollars around to, in effect, buy legislative influence. Amendment 1 would do what Missourians want – set limits on campaign donations.

The third point involves redistricting. Anyone who understands how lawmakers gerrymandered the last legislative district maps can see the problem, including here in Ray County. Then-Sen. David Pearce had served in his home county of Johnson and several counties south. After redistricting, he lost all of the counties to the south and became the senator for Ray and several counties to the north of Johnson County. Amendment 1 offers a fairer way to redistrict.

To reduce the influence of lobbyists, to reduce the influence of money in campaigns and to reduce the influence of lawmakers during redistricting, Missourians should exert their own influence by voting yes for Amendment 1.

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Joplin Globe: Yes on 1

Originally posted in the Joplin Globe on October 25, 2018

It has been a hard fight to get before Missouri voters Amendment 1 — a multi-faceted proposal that, if approved, will change the rules that govern lobbying, campaign donations, open records and redistricting.

Specifically, it will require lawmakers and staff members to wait two years after the conclusion of their last legislative session before they can become paid lobbyists. Missouri’s prohibition is currently too short at just six months. This is an improvement.

It also would prohibit lawmakers and their staffs from accepting gifts from paid lobbyists in excess of $5. This is long needed, and frankly, it won’t come from lawmakers.

Amendment 1 also requires that all legislative records, including legislative proceedings, be considered public records — again, a gimme that is much needed, and one we will never see happen through legislative action.

The amendment also includes restrictions on campaign contributions for lawmakers — $2,500 for state Senate candidates, $2,000 for state House candidates. This is not much different from the $2,600 cap we have now.

More uncertain for us is the redistricting component to Amendment 1. Missouri’s legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. census. We agree with the goals of proponents, who want a more transparent, nonpartisan mechanism that results in more competitive districts. That would be good for democracy statewide. Currently, about 90 percent of Missouri’s districts are not competitive, meaning they are either safe Democratic or safe Republican seats. This undermines lawmaker accountability to voters.

While most of Southwest Missouri would remain dominated by Republican districts, this is not just about us. This is also about preventing what proponents call “vote dilution” from gerrymandering. Will this new plan get us there? Candidly, we’re not sure, but we know the current mechanism isn’t working.

Under the current system, new district maps are drawn by two bipartisan commissions, one from the House and one for the Senate. Each commission’s legislative district plan has to be approved by 70 percent of its members. If the maps fail to get 70 percent, the Missouri Supreme Court appoints a commission of six state appellate judges to draw up new maps. Missouri’s legislative districts were last redrawn in 2011, and it required the use of the court-appointed judges. It is naive to think we won’t be heading back to the judges after the 2020 census.

Amendment 1 creates the position of a “nonpartisan” state demographer who will be responsible for drawing up legislative redistricting maps and presenting them to House and Senate apportionment commissions. The proposal also outlines criteria the demographer must use when redistricting. The state auditor would compile the list of candidates for the position, and no person who served in a partisan, elected position during the four-year period before the selection for the demographer could apply, and anyone who takes the job would be prohibited from serving as a legislator for four years afterward.

Whether this new method will do any better removing partisanship from redistricting remains to be seen, but on balance, we’re willing to give Amendment 1 a shot. We recommend a “yes” on Nov. 6.

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Columbia Daily Tribune Endorses Amendment 1

Originally in the Columbia Daily Tribune on October 28, 2018:

Ballot Amendment 1, better known as Clean Missouri, isn’t perfect. If it has one key fault it’s that the amendment might be trying to do too much.

But trying to do too much, in this case, is better than doing nothing at all.

Clean Missouri’s aim matches its name, to clean up and prevent corruption big and small that has invaded statewide politics.

If passed by voters Nov. 5, Amendment 1 would:

Impose a $5 limit on the value of lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers.

Bar former lawmakers and legislative staff from working as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.

Limit campaign donations to $2,500 to candidates for the state Senate and $2,000 to candidates for the Missouri House.

Count donations to legislative candidates from political action committees that have one donor that provides more than 50 percent of the funding against that donor’s personal limit for candidate donations.

Establish an office known as the state demographer to draw House and Senate districts to be competitive between the two major parties, with other provisions intended to make the districts compact, with lines that do not cross the boundaries of political subdivisions.

None of these changes would harm voters or the electoral process. It will help reign in harmful practices that give special interests and partisan politicking a louder voice than Missouri voters.

The limit on campaign gifts is overdue. Whenever a politician accepts gifts, whether it be a t-bone dinner or event tickets, the appearance of impropriety can’t be escaped. The truth is some politicians can be influenced by such gifts. Lobbyists will tell you that gifts don’t impact public policy debates. If that were true then why bother with gift-giving at all? The practice’s existence is proof of its usefulness.

Most importantly, however, is the role Amendment 1 will play in cleaning up Missouri’s gerrymandered mess when it comes to legislative districts. Boone County is a perfect example of this.

In Missouri’s 50th House District, it’s impossible to travel from one side to the other without using a boat to cross the Missouri River or driving outside the district. The 44th House District snakes south across the Randolph County and Boone County border to encompass most of Columbia’s Third Ward. The 47th House District, like the 44th and 50th, also crosses county lines.

Columbia alone is large enough to fit three House districts inside it. Instead only the 45th and 46th House Districts are contained within its borders. This has minimized the voice and will of Columbia residents in the Missouri General Assembly.

Amendment 1 will honor existing geographical and political boundaries. That alone makes this amendment a necessary yes vote on Nov. 6.

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KC Call: Yes on 1

Originally in the Kansas City Call on October 26, 2018

Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1

This amendment, also known as “Clean Missouri,” concerns post-census, independent non-partisan reapportioning
of state House and Senate Districts; limits on campaign contributions and limits on lobbying,
including gifts and also bans political fundraising on government property.

Recommendation: VOTE YES

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National NAACP President and CEO: Yes on Amendment 1

By Derrick Johnson, national President and CEO of the NAACP

Missouri voters currently have a rare opportunity in their hands: the chance to strike a victory for fairness and ethics in politics. As lifelong champions for civil rights, we know occurrences like this are too hard-won to be squandered.

The fight for justice in Missouri starts with restoring integrity, transparency, and accountability in our state government. Amendment 1 gives us a rare shot for desperately needed reforms to give power to the people.

Amendment 1 would make Missouri a national leader in protecting the voting power of communities of color. It requires that maps shall not result in “diminishing [racial or language minorities’] ability to elect representatives of their choice.” Passing Amendment 1 would give Missourians the rights and tools necessary to challenge unfair or racist gerrymandering—rights that currently do not exist in the state or federal law.

Amendment 1 would also eliminate gifts from lobbyists and require all legislative meetings and records to be open to the public. It would lower campaign contribution limits to put support for candidates within the reach of everyday Missourians—not just those with a corporate checkbook. And most importantly, it enshrines the Voting Rights Act into the Missouri Constitution to protect the rights of communities of color to be represented in the legislature. State leaders of conscience should welcome the chance to be held to the highest standards.

The fact is, big donors have too long held sway over Missouri politicians. Is it any wonder special interests’ wish lists end up far ahead of the needs of everyday constituents? Some might say the system is broken. We say it’s working exactly as it was designed — for the wealthy and well connected, and not for you and me.

Why do you think the legislature legalized discrimination by pushing a law that disenfranchises 220,000 voting-age Missourians who lack a state-issued photo ID? They are doing all they can to silence the voices of black, brown and young voters; and the folks working swing shifts or hourly jobs can’t leave their places of employment to get to the polls.

Of course, some politicians, powerful lobbyists, and big money donors are trying to stop Amendment 1. Why else would they want to eliminate all expensive lobbyist gifts when they take an average of nearly $900,000 every year in free trips, carts of liquor, and concert tickets?

They don’t want to stop big money to their own campaigns, or follow the Sunshine Law to make meetings and records open to the public. Instead, they have kept their records secret and kicked citizens and reporters out of public hearings. They don’t want to make districts more competitive, so that they can cater to big donors while ignoring voters back home.

The NAACP has a proud history of fighting for political equality for all citizens, which is why we are in full support of Amendment 1. It’s time we clean up Missouri politics and Amendment 1’s policies are strong reforms that have been vetted and endorsed by the Rev. Dr. Rodney E. Williams, NAACP Missouri State Conference, Missouri Jobs With Justice, Demos, MORE2, Pastor Michael Brooks, Communities Creating Opportunity, Rev. Tex Sample, Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould and Missouri Faith Voices.

A “yes” vote for Clean Missouri (Amendment 1), is a vote to put the power of our democracy back where it belongs—in the hands of the people. We cannot let this opportunity go to waste.

Learn more and get involved at www.cleanmissouri.org. Then vote YES on Amendment 1 this November to clean up Missouri politics.

Posted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 30, 2018.

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News-Leader: Yes on 1

Originally in the Springfield News-Leader on October 27, 2018

The Clean Missouri amendment aims to tackle inequities in the current political environment in Missouri. It is a strong effort to limit the effect of dark money and lobbyist money on the legislative process.

The redistricting effort is the more controversial aspect of this proposal. It is a complicated mechanism, but it is also designed to be a transparent one. All data will be subject to the Sunshine Law – which it currently is not. It is not a perfect method, but it is an improvement over what we currently have and offers a mechanism to keep track of how the work of redistricting is being done. If complications develop, this will allow voters to make an educated choice to improve this process in the future.

We endorse Amendment 1 as a strong step forward for the voice of all Missourians.

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Kirksville Daily Express: Yes on 1

Originally in the Kirksville Daily Express on October 27, 2018

A popular refrain from partisans on both sides of the aisle in recent years has been something with regards to “taking back” our country.

If Missourians want to take back our state, a good place to start is with a “yes” vote on Amendment 1.

While we have long been supportive of campaign finance reform measures, loyal readers should recall that we did not endorse Amendment 2 in 2016. Of that issue we said, “We feel this amendment may have the unintended consequence of moving money out of the light and into the darkness of political action committees.”

Almost 70 percent of Missourians disagreed, Amendment 2 became law, and Missouri’s campaign finance system became more of a mess than one thought possible. It has become increasingly difficult to track campaign donations, and the influence of wealthy donors was not curbed one iota. Instead, dummy political action committees have sprung from the earth and used to easily (and legally) circumvent Amendment 2.

There is no quick fix to our state’s campaign finance laws (or lack thereof) but Amendment 1 takes smart, efficient steps in the right direction. In addition to furthering the limits on total donations, the amendment moves to reduce some of the ways political action committees can be established to abuse the system. If 50 percent or more of a PAC’s funding comes from one source, dollars spent by that PAC to fund a candidate’s campaign would be counted toward that original source’s limit.

This is key. While we are all subject to a $2,600 limit in donations to candidates for the Missouri House or Senate, there is really nothing stopping anyone from setting up 10 political action committees, writing 10 $2,600 checks to those political action committees, and then those committees directing all of that money to a single candidate. Sure, PAC donors are not supposed to direct PAC spending, but while it might be obvious it’s happening, proving it is another story.

And if you think that scenario is outlandish, spend a few hours digging through Missouri Ethics Commission reports. We have. It happens.

Amendment 1 also rolls back to $5 the amount lobbyists can spend on a single gift to elected officials. Lobbyists have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Missouri lawmakers in 2018, from steak dinners to event tickets and more. Some lawmakers say these gifts do little to influence their policy decisions, and in some cases that may be true. But if you’re asking us to believe all lawmakers are above this influence, standing ready to bite the hand that’s literally feeding them, we have a hard time accepting that.

Finally, Amendment 1 gets politics out of redistricting, instead using a nonpartisan expert called “math” to create fair, competitive legislative districts. Regardless of what political party you support, we should all agree that competitive elections encourage better candidates and ideas. Those are winning qualities for us all.

Democrats and Republicans, both those currently serving in office and who are retired, have come out to offer Amendment 1 bipartisan support.

The group opposing Amendment 1 is funded solely by St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield.

Let’s take a step toward cleaning up state politics. Let’s vote “yes” on Amendment 1.

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Jeff Co Leader: Yes on 1

Originally in the Jefferson County Leader on October 17, 2018

One of the fun things about my job is its capacity to surprise me. It happened twice last week, and the same fellow was responsible both times.

His name is Terry Beckmeyer and he lives in New Haven, a small town (2,000 residents) in Franklin County about 70 miles northwest of Jefferson County.

A while back, he wrote a letter to the editor, asking if the Leader was aware that our guy, state Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, has been the No. 1 recipient of lobbyist gifts among the Legislature’s 250 members over the last four years – from 2015 to midway through this year.

It’s trackable because Missouri law requires registered lobbyists to file monthly reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission detailing what they give to elected officials, their staff members and their families.

I didn’t want to print Beckmeyer’s letter because space is limited on the Opinions Page and we reserve it for local folks, but managing editor Kim Robertson handed over the letter to Leader political reporter Steve Taylor to check out.

Taylor went to the website Beckmeyer suggested and verified the claim. The resulting Oct. 4 Page 1 story confirmed that Wieland’s lobbyist take of $23,690 since 2015 is tops in the state. That was information I didn’t know. But it wasn’t either of the big surprises.

Wieland made the case in our story that lobbyists have something he needs to be an effective legislator – information – and added that his vote can’t be bought with a meal or a sports ticket, typical of the gifts he had accepted.

“I could sit in my office and not socialize with anyone and on these lobbyists’ reports look like a good little choir boy, but I wouldn’t be getting anything done. I’d be a terrible legislator,” said Wieland, whose 22nd District takes in the north half of Jefferson County.

It’s not unusual for politicians to say, and mean it, that their votes are not for sale. Wieland’s comment was echoed in the story by state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who represents south Jefferson County and accepted $9,230.70 in gifts over the four years, and 113th state Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, who accepted $4,246 in gifts.

Although we interviewed only those three, all Jefferson County legislators since 2015 (except for new 97th District state Rep. Mike Revis, D-Fenton) have received gifts from lobbyists, and here’s a good guess each one of those officials would disavow being influenced.

I should point out, however, that since 2004, lobbyists who were advocating positions with Missouri legislators reportedly plied the politicos with gifts averaging nearly $900,000 a year in eat, drink, tickets, travel, etc.

Clearly, those footing the bill must think they’re buying something.

Ta-da! Time to tell you what surprised me. Our story was legitimate no matter who put us up to it, but I figured Beckmeyer might not be a real person, or might be a Democratic operative, or might be related to Bob Butler, Wieland’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election.

I thought I’d be writing a column today about how the press sometimes LETS itself be manipulated for the greater good.

So, I called Beckmeyer. Turns out he’s a real person, a self-described “curmudgeon” who was looking up information about his own state rep when he spotted Wieland’s total. He thought he should inform our voters.

Don’t call Beckmeyer a Democrat. “I’m a proud independent!” he declared.

Retired for the past eight years, Beckmeyer said he has devoted much of his time to researching “unscrupulous” political activity. His primary focus at present, he said, is Missouri’s new voter ID law, which he opposes.

Beckmeyer’s resume was the first shock to my system.

The second came when I asked him his position on Amendment 1 – the “Clean Missouri” initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposal seeks more transparency in legislative records and proceedings; would set limits on campaign donations; would change the process for redrawing legislative districts to make the end result less partisan … and, drum roll.

It would ban any gift from lobbyists worth more than $5.

Beckmeyer is squarely for this, right?

Uh, not necessarily.

Echoing Amendment 1 opponents who went to court trying unsuccessfully to block the vote, Beckmeyer is afraid the proposal is taking on too much in one fell swoop.

“I’m confused by Amendment 1,” he said. “There are too many issues going on. Any one of those things is a significant issue by itself, and in the end, they might not turn out to be what they are intended to be.”

He said he might have to wait until Election Day for a last-minute gut check to guide his vote.

My gut says Missouri needs Amendment 1. The Legislature has confronted these issues many times and failed to make any headway. It’s past time for voters to step in.

Romine and Shaul told Taylor they would like to see lobbyists’ gifts go away.

“I’ve voted every time to get rid of accepting lobbyists’ gifts, and I will again,” Shaul said. “But until the rules are changed, I’ll play by the rules we’re given.”

Hey, Missouri voters, why don’t you and I change the rules?

We have our chance in 26 days.

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