Last week, Governor Nixon signed into law the most significant effort at ethics reform in state history. Unfortunately, we’re talking Missouri state history, so a “significant effort” – though historic, I suppose – is still not saying too much. There is still a tremendous amount that still needs to be done.
The most pessimistic part of me even fears this “accomplishment.” If this passes as significant, then there’s no telling how long it will be before ethics reform is taken into consideration as a major priority again. It is the opinion of me – and the others that have started this effort – to put ethics reform on the front burner PERMANENTLY! If ethics reform loses its front seat attention, it is doomed to end up on the pretty tall Missouri scrap heap of “good ideas no longer seen as a priority.”
And make no mistake, folks, what just was signed into Missouri law passed is pretty lame – even by Jefferson City standards.
First, the good news. The law now recognizes that Missouri has an ethics commission! Before this bill was signed, the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) was a paper lion at best; it didn’t even have the teeth to prosecute those that lied to MEC investigators. Call me cynical but I can’t really get too excited about a reform that simply gives a legal entity of the state the power sane people wanted it to have in the first place.
The new law also now finally closes the loophole where some political campaign committees could avoid filling electronically – and thus avoiding scrutiny through the online database.
Speaking of money laundering, the law also takes aim at groups hiding political donations through other groups. This is often done by PACs as a way of concealing who donors are. Finally, PACs in Missouri are prohibited from accepting donations from other PACs.
Now, the bad news. THIS CANNOT BE CONSIDERED REFORM! By simply giving the MEC what it always needed, you are simply giving legitimacy to something that has been masquerading as an entity of accountability for years. Long overdue? Sure. But only in Bizarro World (okay, and maybe Illinois) should that be considered “reform.” The MEC now has the ability – in theory – to fully investigate parties, candidates, and lobbyists. Sorry if I’m not impressed.
Now, the really bad news. This still doesn’t deal with the root problems found in Jefferson City. Representatives roam the halls of the capitol theoretically in tune with those that elected them. But access is constantly being brokered by a corrupt system that allows lobbyists to convert campaign donations, meals, and gifts into access. This access buys them the time and the ears of our elected representatives. When you combine this legalized-access-buying with growing voter apathy in everything Jefferson City related, you foster a special-interest controlled policy making machine.
Interest groups can still drown these representatives with gifts – be they meals, trips, or baseball tickets
. We have to call this what it is – legalized bribery.
Interest groups can still pour unlimited amounts of cash into Missouri state political campaigns. Sure, all contributions need to be disclosed, but given the Missouri voter’s political apathy (well deserved?) this radically changes the way campaigns are financed in Missouri and puts state elections in the shopping cart of the highest bidders. Want to succeed electorally but don’t have friends with deep pockets? The Show-Me State might not be for you.
Now’s the time to double down on ethics reform. There are leaders in the fight – namely Representative Kander D-Kansas City
. But there are even more – in and out of Jefferson City – that just don’t care. Don’t let ethics reform die out, Missouri. This needs to become a priority. It needs to become our obsession.