The people who are paid to influence the way our laws are written have sat quietly as proposals to limit that influence start to be aired at the Capitol.
Type the word “ethics” in a House and Senate database listing this year’s bills and you get a list of about two dozen proposed pieces of legislation specifically referring to ethics, campaign finance reform, and lobbyist regulation. Many of them want to limit big money in campaigns. Some want to keep legislators from also serving as political consultants while in office, raising money during sessions, and becoming lobbyists immediately upon leaving the legislature. Few, however, have gotten a committee hearing as the sessions speeds toward the halfway point.
Lee’s Summit Senator Will Kraus, who has explained his bill to a committee in a room packed with lobbyists, maintains laws don’t make people ethical…and he doesn’t think Missouri politicians are UNethical. “That being said,” he says, “my constituents overwhelmingly support caps.” So his bill limits campaign donations. But Senate Leader Tom Dempsey of St. Charles doubts campaign limits will restore public confidence in state government. It sure hasn’t done it with the federal government, he says. “It hasn’t done anything to reduce the influence of money in politics…It hasn’t changed the perception among the people we serve, the people that you referenced, in terms of making things look better,” he tells Kraus.
Senator Jamilla Nasheed has told the committee changes need to be made because the public perception of politicians continues to decline. “Many of our constituents believe we are bought and paid for by special interest groups,” she says to the committee. “Many of you know that is farther from the truth. But we can dispel that myth.”
She proposes to do that by limiting campaign contributions to any candidate in any election to $2,600. Missouri has no contribution limits now, and Dempsey fears approval of limits now would give candidates who already are raising money for 2016 campaigns will be put at a substantial advantage over those who announce their intentions after the limits would go into effect in January.
None of the lobbyists watching the so-far rare hearing on ethics legislation this year had anything to say to the committee during the hearing.