(This post is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
Most of the bills that are passed by the Missouri House and Senate and then signed into law by the governor go into effect Aug. 28.
Sometimes, however, a bill is considered to be of such importance that it is passed with an emergency clause, which allows it to take effect immediately. You might guess that such bills would be limited to those that could involve the possible loss of life or property.
You would be wrong.
One bill to which Missouri legislators have attached an emergency clause is SB 1038, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields, R-Clinton. The bill, which has passed the Senate and should be voted on in the House within the next several days, calls for the repeal of campaign contribution limits.
Missouri voters, by a wide margin, approved contribution limits in the mid-90s, but it did not take long for the Democratic and Republican parties to figure out loopholes, including the creation of party committees to enable well-heeled special interests to contribute far above the maximum. So instead of correcting these loopholes, Sen. Shields and those who favor the infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars in special interest money, argue the best bet is to remove the limits altogether and simply make sure every dollar is reported so voters will know who is contributing how much.
This bill was tried last year and for slightly more than seven months, unlimited contributions were provided for Missouri politicians. Retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield made a six-figure contribution to Matt Blunt’s campaign, as did Texas developer Bob Perry, the chief financier behind the Swift Boat attacks that derailed John Kerry’s 2004 presidential candidacy. Sinquefield also made huge contributions to Republicans and Democrats who favored his agenda of giving taxpayer money to private schools.
When the Missouri Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in July 2007, Sinquefield tried another attack, creating 100 political action committees, with each of them contributing the maximum to Attorney General candidate Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville. Sinquefield’s committees donated heavily to other candidates this year, including $9,750 to Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, and $1,000 to Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, during the first three months of 2008, according to Missouri Ethics Commission documents.
Now, it appears that Sinquefield and other wealthy individuals will be able to continue to openly attempt to buy candidates without having to go to all of the trouble of creating shell committees. And what’s worse, our elected officials think it is so important that these few people have so much power in the system, that they are attaching an emergency clause so it can take place immediately after the bill receives the governor’s signature.
Many conservative pundits have said campaign contributions are freedom of speech. Perhaps…but if this speech is free, then why are the rest of us paying for it?