Missouri Democrats push campaign reform, vow to take fight to ballot

11/27/2012 3:29 PM

11/27/2012 3:29 PM

JEFFERSON CITY -- House Democrats unveiled legislation Tuesday aimed at limiting campaign contributions and restricting gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.

And if Republicans are not willing to work towards passing the bill, Democrats offered a warning.

"If the majority party does not want to address this issue, we’re going to look at going to an initiative process and take it to a vote of the people," said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat. "I can almost guarantee that if we put this on a ballot, it would pass overwhelmingly."

Missouri is currently the only state that allows lawmakers to accept both unlimited lobbyist gifts and unlimited campaign donations.

Republican leaders, specifically House Speaker Tim Jones, have traditionally opposed campaign contribution limits, arguing they can make the process less transparent.

In 1994, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approve caps on campaign contributions, but donors were able to skirt the law by funneling dollars to multiple political groups but aimed at the same campaign.

In 2008, Republicans overturned the caps.

Jones said earlier this year that any work on campaign and ethics reform should wait until after the election.

He could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

The Democratic proposal, which is being sponsored by Kansas City Democrat Kevin McManus, is modeled on legislation that was unanimously approved by a special bipartisan House committee in 2010.

That legislation never came up for a vote in the full House, however, and was eventually replaced with a scaled-down version. Earlier this year, that law was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court over procedural violations with how it was passed.

Among the provision of the new Democrat bill include:

■ Capping campaign contributions for candidates for statewide office or the General Assembly at $5,000 per donor per election.

■ Barring lawmakers, their spouses or dependent children from accepting more than $1,000 in lobbyist expenditures per calendar year.

■ Requiring not-for-profit organizations that contribute money for political purposes to disclose their donors.

■ Prohibiting lawmakers from working as paid political consultants while in office.

■ Prohibiting campaign contributions from being invested in anything other than interest-bearing checking or savings accounts, in response to former House Speaker Steve Tilley’s use of campaign funds to purchase shares in a local bank.

■ Granting the Missouri Ethics Commission greater authority, including the power to initiate investigations.

■ Restricting committee-to-committee transfers of campaign funds.

■ Prohibiting the solicitation of campaign contributions on public property.

■ Imposing a waiting period on former lawmakers lobbying the General Assembly after leaving office. “It is an unfortunate reality that money and politics go hand in hand, but if Missourians are to have any confidence in their government, they need to know exactly who their elected officials are holding hands with,” McManus said. “Under this bill, those who seek to influence public officials will no longer be able to hide in the shadows.”

In the Senate, Independence Democrat Paul LaVota said he will sponsor a version of campaign and ethics reform legislation.

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