Saturday, August 30, 2008

Only Globe has mentioned big contributions to Hulshof, Nixon campaigns

The new Missouri law that is likely to have the greatest effect on the state is the one which repealed campaign contribution limits. The gloves came off Thursday, and to this point only one traditional media outlet, The Joplin Globe, has even posted an article about the first $5,000-plus contributions to the gubernatorial campaigns of Kenny Hulshof and Jay Nixon.

Kenny Hulshof raised an incredible $1.1 million on Thursday, the first day of unlimited contributions, and that's just the ones we know about. The new law only requires the contributions to be posted within 48 hours if they are above $5,000. Anything that less than that will have to wait until the next regularly scheduled disclosure report.

Those who supported Charlie Shields' bill to repeal the limits said it was vital to do so in order to bring "transparency" to campaign financing. This would stop the funneling of money through district committees, they said. By the time the final bill was on its way to Gov. Matt Blunt to sign, there was nothing to stop those who do not want people to know the source of their money to keep running in through the committee laundering system.

And it is highly unlikely that any continued spotlight will be focused on the reports that are filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. The Joplin Globe's story has been the only one and that is because it happened to fall on the time schedule for the Globe's Sunday weekly column on money in politics.

So far, nothing from any of the other major newspapers, though I will grant you that this is happening at a bad time, between the Democratic and Republican national conventions, with the Hulshof filing occurring the same day John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate.

The records are available, but most voters do not have the time nor the inclination to sift through what is available on the Ethics Commission website, which is not the most user-friendly anyway. If you want to discover what politicians are receiving oversized contributions you have to call up the documents of each politician. Unlike many governmental websites, there are no search features for document filed within the past day or the past week or any other time period.

As for the traditional media, it is my hope, though I am not naive enough to expect it, that they will concentrate not only on the fundraising horse race aspects of campaign financing, but also just where the money originates and what that could mean to taxpayers. The traditional media also has a bad habit of employing hit-and-run stories on money in politics, similar to the Globe's weekly column, and not treating it as an important beat with continuous updates.

The fallout of this new law is a major story in the 2008 elections and beyond. In his Globe column, reporter Joe Hadsall notes that Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved campaign contribution limits in the 1990s. Their wishes were overruled by greedy, self-serving politicians. That is the only transparency in this sad story.

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