Letter from Langdon: Money Doesn’t Just Talk – It Screams

A ballot initiative in Missouri would set limits on political contributions in an effort to keep Big Money from running the state. If it passes, ordinary citizens will be the ones who benefit.

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It happens all the time. A card in the mail or a phone call — someone wants to pitch a time share membership, insurance, or extended warranties. For farmers? A lengthy, time consuming questionnaire designed to sell farm chemicals, pesticides, seeds, fertilizer, or maybe its Google calling, wanting to list the business.   

They all have one thing in common: just a few moments of your time.  

That’s a little the way politics work. Lobbyists of every stripe and color buy our elected representatives meals, take them on trips, and support their campaigns with lavish donations and gifts.  

All they want is one-on-one time — and a favorable vote on critical legislation affecting all of us that may not, however, treat all of us the same.  

Maybe that’s why a Missouri citizen group gleaned enough petition signatures to place Clean Missouri Constitutional Amendment One on the November ballot, because a handful of billionaires with money to burn have been buying more than coffee and soft drinks for Missouri’s elected officials.  

Stacked votes in lobbyist pockets look a lot like stacks of dollar bills in legislators’ pockets, and a rigged game against family values and sound economic interests of Missouri citizens and wage earners.  

It’s been this way for a long time.  

A friend of mine likes to tell the story of being in the state capitol rotunda years ago in Jefferson City. Smoking is banned there. Lobbyists are known to congregate around the balcony rail above the rotunda during session recesses where legislators can be buttonholed on their way in or out. One powerbroker, well known and well funded, was there, smoking a cigarette. Everyone seemed oblivious to the smoke except for my friend who asked how he got away with that.  

“I can smoke in this building anywhere or anytime I want” is all he said.  

It’s obvious that particular lobbyist wasn’t used to hearing the word “no.”  

A few years ago voters had a chance to weigh in on a renewable energy issue called Proposition C, a ballot initiative that called for more renewable energy generated inside state borders for more Missouri jobs and investment. Voters approved it overwhelmingly and, for a while, it looked like wind and solar would go here like gangbusters. But when the General Assembly convened the following year, lobbyists went to work, and a majority of our elected representatives revised the statute to allow power companies to purchase renewable energy not just from Missouri sources but from anywhere within 150 miles of the state line.  

They said it needed fixing.  

The big winners of that action were corporate wind farms next door in Kansas.   

It usually gets worse before it gets better. That describes big money donors to a T. Now, Republican legislators who vote in favor of public interests over lobbyist wishes aren’t even safe. At one recent meeting, a Republican state representative told the assembled group he had been targeted for opposition by a St. Louis billionaire intent on reshaping our state to the ultimate dystopian anti-education corporate right-to-work dream. There would be no more unions and more corporate tax credits. And privatized public education for all—if they could afford it.  He spoke about the daunting task of running for office where, thanks to mega money donors, his opponents could outspend him 2 to 1. Still, he prevailed until the time when term limits mandated he vacate his House seat. He and two other termed-out representatives sought their district’s Senate seat. But a fourth candidate, a political outsider with the help of three political action committees, outspent the veteran lawmakers 3 to 1 and won the Republican nomination. During the campaign, the winning nominee tarred her opposition for voting in favor of a new building on the campus of University of Missouri at Kansas City. “https://www.whig.com/20180807/olaughlin-tops-three-lawmakers-in-senate-race”  

On the other hand, if certain corporations want facilities and private access on public school grounds, it’s a totally different issue here and a lot of other places 

It’s not just PACs, rich folks, and corporations influencing our elections. There are also incumbent politicians who toe the company line and funnel money directly to hand-picked candidates for office below them. A member of Congress or state senator supports candidates willing to parrot his agenda in the state legislature, or to get even with those who don’t. I once saw an incumbent county commissioner who failed to show the proper respect to a state senator covered up with campaign spending by his opponent. That money came from big donors by way of the vindictive senator.  

The incumbent lost his race.  

It was explained to me that officeholders at the top of the ticket like to keep a solid foundation of reliable supporters below, all the way down to the county and city levels. Big money helps them meet their goal.  

As is always demanded by quid quo pro, concessions are made for the benefit of wealthy donors. One state legislator explained his convenient belief that tax credits have no cost because they are granted before revenue is collected, whereas programs favoring public education and aid to the poor are far too expensive because they require spending of limited post tax credit revenue.  

Gag me with a stick. From the sound of it, a lobbyist helped him formulate his position 

Maybe that’s why people from all walks of life and political persuasion are lining up behind Clean Missouri.  

What would it do to change things?  

For one thing it would require retiring legislators to wait two full years before becoming lobbyists themselves. It limits lobbyist gifts to a value of no more than $5.  It puts a halt to partisan gerrymandering—the irrational and convoluted drawing of voter districts in Missouri favoring one political party over the other.

Supporters of Clean Missouri Constitutional Amendment One packed a courtroom hearing in Jefferson City. (Photo source: Clean Missouri Facebook Page)

Under proposed Amendment One, individual campaign contributions are limited to $2,500 in the state senate and $2,000 in the house, and office holders would be prohibited from campaigning on state property, like the time when a sitting Missouri secretary of state who was running for governor did his campaign mailings from his state office in the Kirkpatrick Building, or when a sitting governor working from the Governor’s Mansion used his access to a not-for-profit mailing list to raise campaign funds. And it prohibits individual donors from skirting limits on donations through the use of “committees.”  

Lastly, the Clean Missouri initiative lets the sun shine in on hearings and records so that the public can see behind the curtain of secret political dealings—and payoffs.  

Some politicians are already saying Clean Missouri is wrong for the state because they need expensive lobbyist provided meals, cocktail parties, and all-expense paid trips to “learn” about issues and what’s important to Missourians.  

If Clean Missouri gets its way, they’ll be doing that over a cup of coffee, instead.  

Richard Oswald is a fifth-generation farmer living in Langdon, Missouri. He is membership and policy director for the Missouri Farmers Union. 

 

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