Missouri, other states are facing big campaign oversight probl

Sunday, July 21, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- When Missourians go to the polls this fall, the last gasp of a seldom understood campaign financing system will probably not even be noticed.

Missouri's general election on Tuesday, Nov. 5, will mark the last day of a period of time that permitted huge amounts of contributions to escape public scrutiny. The problem that will still require close scrutiny, however, is one that some electoral experts believe the recently enacted Campaign Reform Act, while cursing some of the pitfalls of the current system, may cause others equally troubling.

As part of a year-long study of contributions and expenditures reported by political party committees in all 50 states, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics created a database based on campaign finance records filed with state agencies. The results of this study were recently made public in Washington.

The conclusions of the study include:

Disclosure flaws could pose even more serious problems if national political parties rely more on their state affiliates after federal soft money is banned under the Campaign Reform Act.

The new law will have to jump several hurdles if it hopes to meet its stated objective of making public knowledge of campaign financing easier, and that without these successes, there is opportunity for the act to further cloud campaign reform.

In at least 30 states, including Missouri, significant problems exist for simply obtaining campaign finance reports from oversight agencies.

Electronic databases -- such as those installed in Missouri -- have not improved the quality of reporting. Oversight of this state's election campaign contributions is vested in the six-member Missouri Ethics Commission, which has yet to receive needed information from a succession of systems bought by the state. That the system will be up and running in time to provide an accurate list of donors and their contributions by the next election is hardly guaranteed.

In the past, millions of dollars in contributions and expenditures were not reported due to loopholes in state laws.

Handwritten reports, missing details that are legally required, incorrect information and state agencies that are ill-equipped to monitor committee filings are problems in nearly every state, including Missouri.

Experts in campaigns and campaign reform believe the new law will push many problems from the national level to the state level, where agencies are not able to process and then disseminate information.

The study further notes that many of the reports issued by the Missouri oversight commission have not always listed all of the money candidates received from national parties and out-of-state contributors. Missouri has only recently required this information to be reported, while many states do not require it at all.

At present, national parties transfer huge amounts of money to state parties. Missouri's two party committees received the bulk of the money they spent in the 2000 election from national parties, a process which makes it virtually impossible to trace whether these national funds were spent only for federal office contests or for a mixture with state office campaigns.

There is no way to determine with certainty that Missouri's state party committees have even listed all of the money they received from the national parties.

The study found that some state parties mixed the sources, then reported total collections only.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: