Missouri politicians seem inconsistent in their actions

Monday, April 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State Treasurer Sarah Steelman inflated the amount of money her campaign appears to have in comparison to others. U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof called for the elimination of funneled political money, though he accepted some himself.

The Republican gubernatorial candidates opened themselves up to charges of inconsistencies this past week. So did some state legislators caught between public policy and campaign pledges.

Like pollen in spring, political inconsistencies come naturally with campaign season.

Consider the campaign finance reports filed last week with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The reports are supposed to detail how much money candidates received and spent from January through March, and how much they had in the bank at the end of that period.

Steelman reported raising $1.16 million during the period, with $1.42 million on hand. Hulshof, her gubernatorial rival, reported raising $906,683 during the period, with $731,575 still in the bank.

But it wasn't really an even comparison.

That's because Steelman included about $120,000 in contributions received after the cutoff, from April 1 to April 14. Hulshof didn't do that.

As a result, Steelman's bottom line looked larger, particularly because her campaign did not report any expenses during that same extra time span. In fact, Steelman reported just $29,458 of expenditures during the entire reporting period.

Explaining the apparent inconsistency, Steelman said Friday that her campaign hadn't received any invoices during the first half of April.

As for the contributions, she said, "we got those in and we just went ahead and put them in [the finance report] while were entering everything. I don't believe there was any calculated reason for that other than that we had them."

Steelman's campaign finance figures also appeared larger because she has loaned her campaign $570,000. Hulshof chipped in none of his own money.

Ethics reform package

But Hulshof also is open to criticism about campaign finance inconsistencies.

On Friday, Hulshof outlined a multifaceted "ethics reform package" that included the elimination of "party committee passthroughs."

Hulshof explained that he wants to halt a current practice in which wealthy donors sidestep Missouri's contribution limits by channeling money through numerous political party committees to candidates.

Under Missouri law, party committees can give 20 times as much as individual donors -- $13,500 in cash plus $13,500 of in-kind contributions, instead of the mere $1,350 that regular donors can give. So donors who already have given their $1,350 maximum can funnel a lot more to candidates by passing the money through various political party committees.

"We have to eliminate these committee passthroughs. It is just wrong. It violates the spirit of the law," said Hulshof, later adding: "These passthrough committees are just in many instances a sham."

Hulshof proposed to require party committees to abide by the same lower contributions limits that apply to individuals, businesses and interest groups.

But he was no different from Steelman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon, who all accepted money channeled through political party committees during first several months of 2008.

Hulshof said he received less of such money than his rivals. "This current system that we're operating under is unfortunate," he said, while adding that he would continue to operate under it until he can change it.

The apparent inconsistencies weren't limited to campaign finance matters.

On Thursday, the House voted 106-39 to pass a proposed constitutional amendment asking voters to approve a one-eighth cent sales tax dedicated the state Veterans Commission.

Among those voting in the majority were 11 Republicans and one Democrat who had signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

One of the House members who signed that pledge was Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, a former Marine fighter pilot who was the lead sponsor of the proposal increasing taxes for veterans.

Explaining the apparent inconsistency to colleagues, Fisher said: "We are not voting on a tax increase, we are letting the voters decide if they want a tax increase."

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