Ethical mishmash

The Missouri Ethics Commission has bungled its handling of a serious issue of campaign-contribution limits ever since the mess was handed to it by the Missouri Supreme Court in July.

At issue are the contributions made to candidates from Jan. 1, when a law that removed limits went into effect, until July 19, when the Supreme Court overturned that law and imposed the limits that had been previously imposed.

The ethics commission's first misstep was to hold secret meetings to determine how it would handle the situation. But here it is four months later, and the commission still hasn't given candidates clear direction.

Now the commission is sending letters to candidates informing them they are being investigated.

Candidates can avoid the commission's secret probe, of course, by returning any contributions in excess of the old limits. Perhaps that's exactly what the commission hopes will happen, which would make its job much easier.

It would have been better if the commission had decided one way or the other: Either candidates had to return the over-the-limit contributions, or they didn't have to return them.

This mess is yet another indication that the Missouri Legislature needs to try again on removing the campaign limits, this time overcoming the problems that resulted in the Supreme Court's ruling. And, while they're at it, the legislature might look for ways to create an ethics commission with some guts.