Thursday, August 2, 2007
When the Missouri Legislature removed limits on campaign contributions at the start of 2007, the bill included other provisions as well, including one that banned fund-raising during legislative sessions. A circuit judge ruled that the ban on contributions when the legislature was in session was wrong, but he left in place the part of the bill removing caps on contributions.
The Missouri Supreme Court agreed that the ban on contributions during legislative sessions was wrong. But it said that without the ban, the intent of the legislature was undone. So the Supreme Court threw out the entire bill and reimposed the same caps on campaign contributions that existed before the bill in question was adopted. It was like tossing the baby out with the bath water.
The Missouri Legislature was right to remove the campaign-contribution limits. The proof is in the fallout from the Supreme Court's decision. We know exactly how much candidates who have benefited from the removal of contribution limits must now return to contributors, because the new law made those large donations a part of required campaign-finance reports accessible to the public.
Under the old system, large contributors gave their checks to political organizations who laundered the money before it reached the intended candidate-recipients, skirting the limits on contributions that were in place for everyone else. As a result, tracking down who was donating large sums of money to individual candidates was hard -- and sometimes impossible.
With the new law, all contributions, large and small, were regularly reported. Anyone who was interested in knowing where a candidate's big bucks were coming from could easily find out.
Now the legislature must again address the campaign-contribution issue. This time, legislators can make their intentions perfectly clear: no limit on campaign contributions plus thorough reporting that makes every political gift as transparent as a newly Windexed window.