(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
About 15 years ago, Missourians made it clear that we wanted some say over the out-of-control campaign contributions that have taken control away from the people and handed it to the special interests.
Now, thanks to our legislature, including every single one representing voters in Newton, Jasper, McDonald, and Barton counties, we no longer have contribution limits.
On the first day of the new wild west era of campaigning, Congressman Kenny Hulshof, the Republican candidate for governor, raked in more than $1.1 million, with $600,000 of that coming from the national Republican Governors Association. His opponent, Jay Nixon, has also raised about a half million dollars.
Special interests from this corner of the state have been well represented in the spending spree. The Humphreys family of TAMKO Roofing in Joplin has contributed nearly half a million to its favored candidates, with $300,000 going to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s re-election campaign and another $150,000 to Michael Gibbons’ race for attorney general.
As expected, one of those to join the party has been Neosho banker Rudy Farber, whose already hefty contributions to Republican politicians and to the party undoubtedly greased the path to his appointment to the State Highway Commission by Gov. Matt Blunt. Thus far, Farber has contributed at least $45,000 to statewide candidates, including $25,000 to Hulshof.
Jerry Hall of Jack Henry & Associates, Monett, has contributed $120,000, with $100,000 going to Hulshof and $20,000 to Peter Kinder.
Hall had already spent $125,000 to support Hulshof even before the contribution limits were lifted. In the July 22 Springfield News-Leader political reporter, Chad Livengood, revealed Hall paid that amount to a group called Americans for a Better America, which bankrolled an attack ad against Hulshof’s opponent, Sarah Steelman, which showed only in the Joplin and Springfield markets.
Livengood noted that Americans for a Better America was formed on June 19 and disbanded July 25, and received only one contribution- Hall’s $125,000.
That kind of skullduggery was one reason Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said he was proposing the removal of campaign contribution limits. It would bring transparency back to Missouri politics by stopping the system of laundering oversized contributions through various district and county committees. Unfortunately, that does not appear to have ever been a part of the plan.
Under the law that went into effect Aug. 28, not only can well-heeled special interests shovel as much money as they want into political races, but if the politicians (or the donors) want to keep it hidden, it can still be done by laundering the money through the committees.
Special interests have already been steering most of the legislation that goes through the Missouri General Assembly. With millions going into statewide elections, and with legislative races sure to follow, returning the government to the people has become that much more difficult.