Sen. Charlie Shields' argument that campaign contribution limits should be removed and reporting increased is flawed, to say the least.
Shields' bill, which will repeal Missouri's campaign contribution limits, is likely to pass the Senate and House by a wide margin and allow special interests to pour hundreds of thousands into campaigns without even taking the trouble to launder the money through special committees.
Shields believes this is a good thing, though he has never explained why these committees could not simply be eliminated and contribution limits stay in place.
Shields says if the contributions are reported on the Missouri Ethics Commission website, then voters will be sufficiently informed as to what special interests are pouring money into elections to try to influence the outcome.
That is nonsense, and Shields knows it. In order for things to work as Shields suggests, someone would have to maintain the watchdog role, keeping voters informed as to who is donating how much money to whom. Judging by the media's past record, this is simply not going to happen.
The media coverage of political contributions has been limited, to say the least, and has usually been limited to how much money the campaigns have, in other words, emphasizing the horse race aspect of politics rather than who is trying to influence the election and what these special interests are hoping to get out of it.
The most widely publicized special interest contributor over the past several months has been retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield, a supporter of educational vouchers, who just contributed nearly $10,000 to Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, according to documents filed over the weekend with the Missouri Ethics Commission. A recent study, which received little publicity across the state, other than from the Kansas City Star, showed Sinquefield has contributed more than $1.1 million to Missouri polticians during this election cycle.
Most newspapers and other media outlets have ignored this story as well as the effect of how other special interests, including banking, health care, and nursing homes, have influenced legislation.
The Joplin Globe recently launched a much-ballyhooed effort to write weekly columns about money in poliitics. While the series has been informational, it has been mostly on a basic level, with no substantive examination of the effect these contributions and lobbyists' gifts have on legislation, and absolutely no mention, as far as I can recall, about the role lobbyists pay in collecting campaign contributions for politicians.
The media have shirked their role, instead limiting their coverage to getting comments from both sides, which really does not tell us anything. Show us the money and show us how it has affected legislation.
Charlie Shields' argument about transparency is a model of transparency. He is well aware that few voters have the time or the inclination to dig into Missouri Ethics Commission records, and the media are not going to do any digging either. That makes it possible for the politicians to accept large amounts of cash with little or no negative publicity, and they won't even have to set up an elaborate maze of committees to launder the money.
Shields' bill is a win-win proposition for the special interests who are already dictating so much of Missouri's legislation.