The founders and the 501(c)(4)s

We honor fifty-six men today who were unafraid of being known although they knew their lives were at risk and an enemy was nearby. We should ask ourselves today how poorly we are keeping faith with them.

Your observer is intrigued by the idea advanced by some that people giving large sums of money to organizations that influence political decisions should be protected while the people on my quiet street who might give twenty dollars to a campaign cannot hide.

The issue came up late in the regular legislative session when some senators defending a colleague who was personally attacked by a dark money political action committee tried to pass a bill requiring such committees to disclose their donors.  Regular campaign committees have to list their donors in filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission.  But the Super PACs, as they’re called, are formed for people who don’t want anybody to know who they are or how much they give. And these organizations appear to attract big-money donations that can finance anonymous personal attacks on other individuals in the political system or influence leaders to see things their ways.

Defenders of the dark money organizations say the secret organizations are necessary to protect donors from political retaliation.  It’s a freedom of speech matter, they say; these people would not be free to express their political positions if they had to do so publicly.

That’s kind of hard for the twenty-dollar donor who lives next door to understand.  How is it that somebody who lives in a big mansion can afford MORE freedom of speech than the people who live on my street in nice but modest homes can afford?  Are not we all equal under the First Amendment?

Apparently not in today’s political climate.  Twenty dollars donated to a candidate or a cause requires your name be on a list that your neighbors of differing political beliefs can see.  And if the candidate you support makes irresponsible claims, you can be held partly responsible.  On the other hand, if your candidate shows inspirational leadership, you can take some of the credit.

It takes courage to donate twenty dollars in the sunshine.  Cowardice lurks in the dark where much bigger donations flow. Our nation was not born in such cowardice.

Let us ponder how different our nation would be today if fifty-six men in 1776 anonymously issued a broadside accusing King George III of all kinds of awful things. Suppose the accusations carried the tag line, “Paid for by Citizens for Free Colonies,” an eighteenth century Super PAC that was not required to file any reports showing who was behind the attack.

But they didn’t do it.  Various sources estimating the wealth of those 56 signers show Oliver Wolcott, John Witherspoon, George Walton, Robert Treat Paine, and Samuel Adams were estimated to be worth 100 British Pounds in 1776.  University of Wyoming professor Eric Nye, on his Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency website, calculates those five men would be worth $16,358 today.  On the other end, Charles Carroll III of Carrollton, Maryland and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania were worth 110,000 British Pounds in 1776 (, which Nye calculates would be just short of $18 million today.  John Hancock of Massachusetts, whose signature is the boldest, was the third wealthiest at about $12.8 million in today’s money.

Five men who were well below today’s poverty level were joined by men who could buy my entire neighborhood in speaking freely to absolute power.  And they knew full well what “political retaliation” could await them.

Fifty-six men who knew they were risking the noose or the firing squad were unafraid to let it be known what they were supporting politically. They were unafraid to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Our founders had the courage to proclaim their positions in the most public manner of their times. We became a nation because rich men and poor men, those living in privilege and those living in poverty, alike shared the personal courage to speak freely and openly.

What kind of people have we become that some of us are so afraid of “political retaliation” that is so mild compared to what our founders risked? What kind of people have we become that we will tolerate the argument that freedom of speech, the freedom to criticize those we elect, as well as the freedom to support those we select, should place those who can afford to attack from the darkness into a protected status?

Dare we continue to tolerate the noise from unknown voices in that darkness, and their defenders, and allow them to overcome the quiet sound of quill pens writing signatures on our founding document if we are to consider ourselves true descendants of those fifty-six men who had the courage to stand in the light?

Corrupt career politicians

Your observer has thought throughout this campaign of writing something about the demagoguery behind the phrase “corrupt career politicians” that has been thrown around by challengers who seem to lack the intelligence to say how they will solve the problems of the state and the nation and think name-calling is the highest intellectual standard they need to display.

Then we read Jason Hancock’s article in The Kansas City Star Tuesday.  In a year when “corrupt career politicians” has been such a buzz phrase that relies on an intentionally uninformed public’s distrust of government, the Missouri Senate majority appears to have volunteered to become a poster child.

Jason’s article says Republican state senators are soliciting money from people who want to buy “face-to-face meetings with GOP leaders when they return to the state Capitol to begin legislating in January.”

A $5,000 donation will buy, among other things, a dinner with the Senate Republican leadership team during the first two weeks of the session.

Suppose you can’t afford 5K.  No problem.  Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin and Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City would love to have breakfast with you for just $2,500.

If you or your organization don’t have that much, well, you might have to go hungry in more ways than one in the 2017 session.  We say “might” because, despite appearances to the contrary, we don’t want to actually accuse Richard and Kehoe of participating in “pay for play.”

Wonder how much a “hello” might cost as one of the majority senate leaders goes the few steps across the hall from his office into the chamber.

This news breaks less than six months after legislators were patting themselves on the back for working on ethics bills—and passing some, toothless though they were.

Missouri remains the only state in the nation without campaign contribution limits and no ban on gifts to legislators from lobbyists. Nor, it is obvious, is there any limit on how much the leaders can charge those wanting to get close to them for breakfast and dinner. But building confidence in government by the electorate has been one of the lowest priorities of the legislature for a long time.  Now, you might ask, can it get any lower?

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 2-1.  Of the seventeen seats up for election next week, four Republicans and Four Democrats have no significant challengers.  So before the contested seats are decided, Republicans are guaranteed to hold their majority, 18-7.  If the Democrats are to break the two-thirds GOP control of the Senate, they must win six of the nine contested elections next Tuesday.

Fat chance.

If you’re supremely confident that you will be in total control of a situation, why worry about ethics and appearances of impropriety?  Make it profitable.

Dinner (or breakfast) might be served.  But public confidence sure isn’t.

Orthodontic thoughts on ethics

Well, the legislature passed four ethics bills this year, didn’t it? 

So what? 

Missouri went into this legislative session as the only state that did not limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, had no cooling-off period before legislators could return to the halls to lobby former colleagues, and no limits on campaign contributions. 

One out of three ain’t bad, as somebody who got a “D” in elementary school English might have said.  But while the legislature deserves a little credit for passing four ethics bills this year, they were all singles. Lawmakers hardly swung for the fences.   They didn’t strike out, certainly, but they didn’t hit much more than bloop singles.  We still don’t have limits on lobbyist gifts and the last thing in the world the powers that be in the legislature wanted to do this election year was address campaign contribution limits.  

But they can campaign on how they cleaned up government.  They won’t campaign on the idea that they only used a whisk broom, however.

The bills passed this year say legislators have to wait six months from the end of their terms before they can become lobbyists.  That means they can’t represent you and me at the capitol during the next legislative session (assuming you and I are the ones who would hire them; there are plenty of others who might).  But by the time the veto session rolls around in September, 2017, those whose terms run out in January can be renewing old acquaintances or augmenting the lobbyist corps putting on the pressure for veto overrides, or laying the groundwork for the 2018 session. And it’s likely that a majority of those with whom they served will still be around, particularly those who will be leaders by then.  

Lawmakers also decided they should not be allowed to hire fellow lawmakers as paid political consultants, a bill triggered by one incident a couple of years ago.  It’s okay legislation but this is hardly a political cancer cure.

Another bill requires candidate campaign finance reports to be filed electronically with the state ethics commission.  Some candidates have utilized a provision in existing law to escape filing with the state by filing with local election authorities.  This bill closes the least shortcoming in the current campaign finance law that eliminated all campaign donation limits.  When that bill was passed, the sponsor said eliminating limits was just fine as long as there was proper reporting of donations.  But the legislature ignored the T. Rex in the room this year when it did not require non-profit political action committees, the Super PACs, to report to the ethics commission who was providing them with money that is often used to bludgeon candidates targeted by big donors who don’t want anybody to know they are behind the so-called dark money in politics today. And they didn’t reinstate any limits on direct donations to candidates or to parties. 

The fourth one says former office-holders can’t invest leftover campaign funds and must dissolve their campaign committees before they can become lobbyists six months after leaving office.  An office-holder who has a large pot of leftover campaign money cannot invest it and use the return on the investment to fund other candidates, for example. 

Bloop singles that fall between the shortstop and the left fielder.   Why aren’t they at least line drives? 

Read the bills: HB1983, HB1979, HB2203, and HB1474.   Look for any penalty provisions. 

We’ll save you the drudgery. Folks, there are no penalties in any of these bills. They seem to be toothless.

If Representative Furd’s term ends with the swearing-in of his successor and now-former Representative Furd shows up in the hallway an hour later lobbying on behalf of the Missouri Association of Left-handed Trombonists while still having $43.92 in his campaign account, what will happen?  Will legislators refuse to let him buy them dinners (the bill limiting lobbyist gifts failed this year, you recall)?  Will Thelonious Furd—friends will now call him “Thel” instead of “The gentleman from Melvin County”—be shunned and find himself standing alone in a third floor alcove?  Will former colleagues block his text messages on the cell phones they might check while debating whether music stores should be able to refuse to sell mouthpieces to gay musicians because of a sincerely held belief?   Will somebody be able to get a court order that says he has to stand in the Capitol yard?   

Was the Missouri Ethics Commission given any authority to write rules dealing with the return of Thel?   Not in this bill. 

If Thel decides he wants to be a campaign consultant for a sitting representative with dreams of glory as Melvin County Administrator, is there a penalty for either him or his former colleague?   We didn’t see one. 

And if he files a report with his county clerk showing that he still has $43.92 instead of filing it with the ethics commission, what severe penalty does he face?   Ah!  There he might be in some trouble because the ethics commission can fine people for not filing proper campaign finance reports and THIS new law appears to put him under that jurisdiction.  

All of this speculation comes from a common citizen living on a quiet street in Jefferson City who used to be able to walk over to the sponsors of these bills and check the teeth in any such propositions. There might be some provisions in other sections of the statutes that would be the teeth for these bills but, from this lofty perch it seem the best we can we can say to most of this year’s ethics legislation is, “Nice gums.” 

The shoe is on the other foot

The chairman of the Special Senate Committee to Generate Headlines for a Senator Running for Attorney General is feeling some of the discomfort that comes from putting the right shoe on the left foot and the left shoe on the right foot, a circumstance that was made possible early in the nineteenth century when Philadelphia cobbler William Young perfected a way to make different shoes for the right and the left feet.

The advance in shoe-making became an American idiom a half-century later when shoe and boot-making progressed enough that different shoes for different feet were more common and an expression was born based on the what happens when situations are reversed.

So it is that Chairman Kurt Schaefer, a State Senator from Columbia with ambitions for greater glory, finds himself in the position of those he has spent months targeting—facing someone who considers him guilty unless he proves himself innocent.

Schaefer, whose SSGHSRAG has battered Planned Parenthood for months with allegations of selling aborted baby parts for research even to the point of threatening to jail the organization’s leader if she didn’t produce extensive records the organization considers protected by law, is now being accused of using his chairmanship to accede to corruption.  Now it is Schaefer, the hunter, who has become the hunted.  Now it is Schaefer who is calling allegations “ridiculous.”

The man Schaefer wants to succeed, Attorney General and governorship-hopeful Chris Koster, investigated the Planned Parenthood allegations months ago and found no evidence any Missouri affiliate of the organization had done any such parts-peddling, a finding Schaefer dismissed by accusing Koster of not looking hard enough.  He has maintained that position despite other investigations in more than a dozen states that also have found no wrongdoing and further, that undermine the credibility of the source of the reports.  Two people involved in producing the original accusatory video on which Schaefer and his committee began their lengthy proceedings have been indicted by a Texas grand jury.

Now Schaefer is feeling the same kind of accusatory pressure from the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust that has asked a county prosecutor to consider a criminal charge against Schaefer.  FACT claims Schaefer used his position as Senate Appropriations Chairman to pressure the University of Missouri into keeping law professor Josh Hawley from running against him for Attorney General.

Schaefer claims the accusation has no basis in fact although former MU System President Tim Wolfe has written that Schaefer pressured him to cancel Hawley’s right to take a leave of absence from the faculty to challenge Schaefer’s candidacy.  The Kansas City Star has reported Schaefer says he talked to Wolfe because he wants to save taxpayers’ money, apparently a reference to Hawley’s salary. Some folks think Schaefer put out a lot of effort for something that is such a minuscule part of the University of Missouri budget.

The head of the organization filing the complaint is a former U. S. Attorney for the southern district of Iowa.  The organization also has other materials beyond Wolfe’s letter to support its accusation.  The Missouri Ethics Commission says the claim is beyond its authority to consider, putting the issue in the hands of local prosecutors.

The complaint also refers to the SSGHSRAG’s investigation of the University’s relationship in Columbia to Planned Parenthood.

Schaefer also is getting heat from a second not-for-profit group that has spent more than $100,000 in ads targeting Schaefer in Columbia and in Springfield, raising questions about Schaefer’s involvement in the Hawley leave issue.  The Public Integrity Alliance and FACT are organizations that do not have to reveal the source of their funding. Both deny any connection with Hawley and his campaign.  The PIA says its ads focus on Schaefer’s ethics.  Hawley disavows any connection to either organization.

The accusations from FACT have provoked great glee among people who have found Schaefer’s committee (actually it’s called the Sanctity of Life Committee) pummeling of Planned Parenthood excessive, to say the least.  Their social media sites exploded late last week when Schaefer moved a meet-and-greet session with supporters at a Columbia watering-hole to another place because the gathering also had become a gathering of anti-Schaeferites who followed him to the quickly-arranged second location.

But now he’s feeling some of the same heat he’s been dispensing.  And he proclaims it is unfair, as Planned Parenthood has complained his committee’s activities have been unfair.  Shoe.  Other foot.  Etc.  He can give it out but can he take it?

The FACT allegations also come at a bad time in his campaign and it would not be surprising if some of those involved weren’t hearing some echoes from 1992 when Attorney General bill Webster, running for Governor, found himself facing charges that he had abused his office by using state staff and equipment for campaign purposes.  He constantly denied any wrongdoing.

Webster won his primary election anyway, defeating outgoing Secretary of State Roy Blunt by 20,000 votes and outgoing State Treasurer Wendell Baily by 120,000.  But he lost in November to Mel Carnahan and later, after months of proclaiming his innocence, pleaded guilty to federal felony charges.

It is not proper to try to draw too many parallels between then and now, at least not at this point.  But suddenly finding the shoe is on the other foot surely is not something Schaefer anticipated and is likely to add an uncomfortable factor to his campaign against Hawley.

Ahem….about ethics reform—

The legislature is trickling lukewarm, watered-down ethics reform bills to Governor Nixon.  Lukewarm they might be but at least something is at last running out of the legislative faucet on this issue.   However, as they say in the Mother Country, “We are not impressed.”

And St. Louis Post-Dispatch capitol reporter Kevin McDermott reminded us why last weekend.

The two best-known Republican candidates to succeed Nixon are former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder.  Behind them are Eric Greitens and John Brunner.

It seems there’s an outfit called Patriots for America. It works on behalf of Brunner.  Note we do not say it works FOR Brunner.  That would be illegal.  Kevin, however, describes an interesting web of circumstance.

Patriots for America is a Super PAC and its main job is to attack Greitens.  According to Kevin’s article, Brunner washes his hands of Patriots for America.  Election laws say candidate campaigns can have no relationship and no coordination with Super PACs whose main job is to make a candidate’s opponent look like something your neighbor’s dog left in your yard while the candidate himself (or herself) can appear to be the good guy traveling the high road.

Kevin details in his article how Patriots for America has avoided revealing the source of the money it is using to do that.  The Missouri Ethics Commission, which keeps track of campaign finance laws insofar as weak state laws let it do so, has no record of P4A.  The Federal Elections Commission has a record of it but the organization evades federal campaign reporting laws by getting its money from a nonprofit corporation which does not have to report the source of its income.

But if nobody can follow the money, somebody can follow the lines of accountability.  And he has done that.

P4A was established by a former Brunner campaign staffer, Andrew McLain, who claims no relationship to the Brunner campaign, which clears him to raise as much money as possible to attack Brunner’s opponent, apparently out of the goodness of his heart. The only donor McLain has listed on his federal reporting form is Franklin & Lee, a claimed nonprofit, that has put $84,000 into the P4A bank account.

Who are Franklin & Lee?  Or what is F&L?  It’s a shadowy thing that just happens to have the same mailing address McLain has. Kevin reports McLain has a second address.  It’s the same address as P4A.

What a circumstance!

Kevin’s story also says P4A also has “apparent connections” with one Paul Holzer.  Paul Holzer, as in Brunner’s former campaign chief of staff.  And when “a reporter,” as Kevin put it in his story (reporters sometimes use that phrase to avoid saying “I” to avoid inserting ourselves into the story) called the P4A lawyer to ask to speak to someone on behalf of the organization, the lawyer’s office referred him to Holzer.  The person answering Holzer’s phone said he wasn’t available and hung up.

The Missouri General Assembly has steadfastly refused to even consider any kind of improvements in Missouri’s campaign donation or campaign donations reporting system this year. Some members have even suggested it’s not even worth trying to do something because campaigns will always find loopholes.  Odd, however, isn’t it, that all of the other states have at least tried.   All of them.

In the meantime the legislature sends the governor a few cups of lukewarm ethical water, probably about the same temperature that candidates can use to wash their hands while former staffers—who have no connection at all to their campaigns—attack an opponent.

And in news conferences at the end of the session in a few weeks, majority legislative leaders will count ethics reform as a major accomplishment of a highly-successful session.

Spring break

This is the traditional time to assess how the General Assembly is doing and is likely to do this year.  Spring break for lawmakers always produces proclamations from the majority party that things are going well and proclamations from the minority party that the legislature has failed to do its job.

Both sides are right.  And they’ll be right in May, too.

The heady enthusiasm of January has worn off and the slogging through a muddy legislative battlefield is in full slog.  Some trench warfare has developed.  Some verbal bombs have burst in the air.  It’s about eight weeks before adjournment (seven when the legislature returns on Tuesday).  Eight loooonnnnnng weeks.

The rush to pass meaningful ethics laws has lost momentum.  Photo Voter ID and the latest efforts to make a legal medical procedure too difficult to obtain are a game in process.  The state budget and its accompanying intimidation, sandbagging, and sniping festival still has a lot of innings to play.

The majority leader of the Senate says people are working together, “for the most part.”  Ah, but that other part promises to enliven these last seven weeks.  Seven weeks is a long time to slow a slog to a crawl but nothing is unexpected in the General Assembly these days.

It’s a campaign year so don’t look for anything significant in the field of campaign reform to happen.  It’s a campaign year so do look for the majority party to do all it can to satisfy its base so it can keep its supermajority.  Look for the minority party to try to appeal to its base by stopping the majority from appealing to its base. The pressure to satisfy both sides only increases from here on.

Every session creates interesting bed fellows and this one has just created one. In this case, it’s one special interest trying to find a comfortable place under the covers for itself.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which has fought efforts to pass laws banning businesses from firing people because they are gay, is now opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment protecting those of its members who don’t want to sell things to gay people—because the amendment would be bad for business.  What an interesting conundrum for the majority party: Do you side with the state’s biggest business organization that traditionally favors your party or do you side with the evangelical voting bloc that has embraced your party?  It’s the House’s problem now.

And the legislative dance floor has the potential for some other interesting moves in the last seven weeks.  Perhaps some will be humming Chubby Checker’s great hit as they twist their way around the issue of transportation funding.  One idea would keep the Highway Patrol from using gas tax money to enforce laws on the highways by having the patrol’s funding come out of general tax collections which already are inadequate for numerous programs and services, most glaringly education, and which some legislators want to reduce even further with tax cuts.

This long-time observer always had the feeling that the legislature should leave when Daylight Savings Time arrives.  Being cooped up at the Capitol while the days are dark and cold is okay.  But, oh man! When there’s warm temperatures and daylight and the session drones on and on for seven more weeks—that’s cruel and unusual punishment.

But we know how it will turn out. The majority party will proclaim this a great session.  The minority party will maintain it was a disaster.

And then they’ll go home for a longer break.

This might be TOO ethical

A long-cherished political tradition is at risk at our state capitol but it might not be too much of a risk. 

St. Louis Representative Gina Mitten has introduced a bill banning candidates for statewide office from chairing House or Senate committees while they are seeking that statewide job.   She says the situation invites abuse because it links the influence committee chairpeople have over legislation at a time when donors might be influenced by the committee’s actions. 

Does that happen?  Surely not. 

Mitten says the situation does not “pass the smell test.”  She’s not proposing the candidate leave the committee.  She just wants the candidate out of the chair.  The candidate can still dominate the discussion and gain as many headlines as would be gained while in the middle seat.  But the candidate’s authority over the fate of the legislation presumably would be erased. 

Mitten isn’t messing around either.  Her bill would ban any chairperson who doesn’t step aside from running for statewide offices for two election cycles.  (Maybe they could become lobbyists.  Other bills moving in the General Assembly would force lawmakers wanting to become lobbyists to wait a whole year before darkening the halls of the capitol. One entire year. Is there any doubt that requirement would solve the problem of ex-legislators getting too close, too soon, to their former colleagues?)

Mitten counts four sitting committee chairpersons who are running for statewide office this year.

Her bill would end decades and decades of practice.  Both parties have done the thing she wants to stop.  It has not been unusual for somebody wanting to improve their visibility and have a chance to grab some headlines to talk to the Speaker of the House or the President pro Tem of the Senate about forming a high-profile committee they can chair, especially if it is about an issue that is important to the candidate’s or the party’s political base.  An interim committee is best because there’s less competition for headlines than there is during the regular session.  Plus, interim committees can hold hearings throughout the state, increasing that visibility among voters who otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention to a committee hearing in Jefferson City and therefore wouldn’t know or care who is leading the crusade.  

Her bill might have a little bit better chance this year than it would have had in years past because the legislature is on a righteousness kick when it comes to lawmaker ethics.  But it probably won’t have much of a chance.  She’s a Democrat in a monocratic Republican legislature. 

She introduced House Bill 2398 on January 27.    As of February 9, the Speaker had not assigned it to a committee.  One might think it would go the House Ethics Committee, of course.  She’s the vice-chairman. 

Putting up appearances

A former White House correspondent once recalled that one of the Presidents he had covered was adept at “looking like” he was doing something.  

The legislature has been telling us this is the year it’s doing something about ethics and the House has quickly sent a package of bills to the Senate where the majority floor leader is expecting action within a couple of weeks. It probably is unfair to suggest at this point that the legislature is “looking like” it’s doing something significant but it might not be unfair to wonder if it is doing as much as it should.  

It might be fair to say lawmakers are putting themselves in a good position to have something to brag about in their re-election campaigns. But a fair question to ask is, “What difference will these things really make?”  Will the hallways during legislative sessions look any different?  Will the influence of special interest groups be lessened?  How will these changes make the lives of the people on this quiet street better?  

Maybe the answer to that last question can honestly be, “They won’t,” but they might provoke a slight climate change at the Capitol.  The climate change, however, is unlikely to melt any political icebergs. 

One change approved by the House bars members of the legislature from becoming lobbyists for a year.  One entire year.  Not one term.  Or four years.  One year after a legislator leaves, that person can be back renewing old buddy relationships with about eighty percent of the people who were colleagues 365 days earlier.  But it does end suspicions at least somewhat that someone will vote for a bill one day and then go to work for the organization behind it a few weeks later. 

Another bill forbids elected officials from being paid political consultants.  In other words, the Speaker of the House or former Speaker cannot run a political consulting office on the side and collect fees from fellow House members wanting more terms, especially if he makes donations to the House members from his leftover campaign funds, then collects those donations back as consulting fees.  In other places, this is known as money laundering . 

Another proposal bans lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators.  Lobbyists can still sponsor junkets but the lawmakers have to pay their own way.  No more tickets to baseball, football, basketball, hockey games would be allowed, though, unless everybody is invited. 

One lawmaker refers to the ethics bills on the move early in this session as “baby steps.”  But they ARE steps and we haven’t seen steps of any size taken for a long time. 

However, we already have seen that the legislature is adept at ignoring the T-Rex in the room.   The House has not touched proposals on campaign donations and the senate leader says the issue will not be considered in his chamber.  

So the message is clear.  A free ticket to a football game is a sin.   A check for $100,000 is sacred. So legislators seeking re-election this year can tell the folks at home they supported steps to “clean up” government.   And because the state is likely to remain the only one with no donation limits, they’ll have plenty of money to advertise their efforts to re-establish virtue at the Capitol. 

One lawmaker has been quoted as saying, “Campaign contributions…are political speech. That is not part of the discussion.” Give that lawmaker some marks for candor. 

Free Speech is important in political campaigns.  But it’s not free, is it?  Some people can afford tens of thousands of dollars of “free” speech.  Some people can afford five dollars of “free” speech.  Both can speak but guess which one is most likely to be heard.  Pretty clearly, the refusal of the legislature to consider balancing the scales of political speech is an indication of who they’d rather listen to and who’s invited to the conversation.  

Let us not confuse free speech guaranteed in the constitution with political speech guaranteed by the checkbook.  Until the imbalance is corrected, those who serve in The People’s House might want to acknowledge they’re serving in The SOME People’s House. 

Baby steps are being taken.  But the footprint of the T-Rex emphasizes how puny they really are in today’s Missouri politics. 

Is this next?

Too bad Representative Mike Pitts serves in the South Carolina legislature—because he’s the Missouri Senate’s kind of guy.

Pitts has introduced a bill he calls the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law.”  Missouri Senate leader Ron Richard might want to take a look at it.  Richard, you know, has decided the Senate just cannot have reporters at the press table on the Senate floor because one of them had the temerity to tweet something the former Senate leader thought he was saying privately to another senator (within hearing distance of the press table) and instead of the former leader talking to the sin-filled former press table occupant, he complained to Richard who, now that he is in charge of the joint, has decided EVERYBODY who covers the Senate is too leprous to be that close to senators.  He’s establishing a special colony in one of the side galleries. The Senate has voted 24-6 to support the establishment of the colony and the Senate Ministry of Information is trying to restrict access to senators even from there.

Representative Pitts has a bill in a South Carolina House committee that would “establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist…to establish fines and criminal penalties for violation…”

He demands that anyone “seeking to register” has to provide a criminal record background check, a document from the journalist’s employer attesting to the person’s journalistic competence, and pay a registration fee.  In return, the person can cover the news for two years.  But the South Carolina Secretary of State can revoke the registration if, among other things, that person is later fond “not competent to be a journalist.”

Who, in Pitts’ view, is not competent to be a journalist?  Anybody who has been found by a court to have committed libel, slander, or invasion of privacy, someone convicted of a felony if the felony was committed “to collect, write, or distribute news or other current information for a media outlet.”  Of course, people like Pitts are the ones who write definitions of “felony.”

Here’s a good one: A person is not competent, in Pitts’ view, if that journalist “has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, as applicable to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.”  Someone like Pitts, I guess, would make that determination.

What happens if someone works as a journalist without being licensed by the state?

First offense is a $25 fine.  Second offense is a $50 fine and maybe fifteen days in jail, too.  A third offense is a $500 fine and perhaps thirty days in jail.  And if the employer doesn’t ditch the creep, the employer can be fined.

BUT, if this were law in Missouri, that person could still sit at the press table in the Senate, at least until March 29 when the leper colony is supposed to be open.

Rep. Pitts has told the Charleston Post and Courier that he’s not a “press hater.”  He’s just upset that the press doesn’t respect Second Amendment rights and “has no qualms about demonizing firearms.”   And he asks, “Do journalists, by definition, really adhere to a code of ethics?”

The answer is, generally, yes.  And, generally, it is adherence to professional standards that makes politicians uncomfortable, especially when money is tied to their political positions.  And Pitts was the target of a Post and Courier investigation on that subject when it reported that Pitts, a hunter, took trips to Alaska and three other western states to “hobknob at summits with ‘sportsmen legislators.’”  On one trip, he used campaign money to pay for gas in his rental car.  Pitts is a member of the South Carolina House Ethics Committee.

The newspaper quotes the head of the South Carolina Press Association, Bill Rogers, who points out that “The Constitution doesn’t say anything about responsible journalism, it says free journalism.”

Pitts, by the way, also once tried to have the state ban the use of United States currency and replace it with gold and silver coins minted in the state because he objected to the way Congress spends money and the way the federal government prints it.

Yep, he’d fit right in here.


I have an amendment

Representative Bart Korman, a Republican from High Hill, has introduced a bill defining sex between lobbyists and legislators or legislative staff as a “gift” and requiring lobbyists to list such gifts along with the more usual tickets to sporting events, meals, booze, and other favors in their reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.  He says his bill “will improve the integrity and transparency in our process.”  It is also the most titillating proposed law in many years.

One weakness is that it is not clear whether the legislation requires a report to be filed for each “gift” or if the filer has to file during each filing period if the gifting is continuing, and whether a report should be filed with the giving ends,  much as a report is made when a campaign committee or continuing committee shuts down.

Some people would be exempt.  Lobbyists who are married to legislators would not have to report the amount of gifting that goes on within their marriage (although, apparently, any gifting on the side would have to be reported).  And if the two started exchanging gifts before they became lobbyists or legislators or legislative staff member, they’re not required to file a report, either.  So if you are a lobbyist who is a friend with benefits with someone who becomes a member of the legislature, you can continue to exchange gifts without reporting.

In other words, celibacy should not be a penalty for the companion of a lobbyist who is elected to the legislature or a legislator whose FWB becomes a lobbyist.

This is a great example of compassionate conservatism but we think it can be improved.

THE SPEAKER:   Gentleman from the 164th.

GENTLEMAN: Thank you Mr. Speaker.  I want to thank the Gentleman from the 42nd for this fine piece of legislation that will drive thousands of Missourians to the Missouri Ethics Commission’s internet site. I think that website is not used nearly enough by citizens who should want to know more about the people wanting their money and their votes. However, I think we can make those reports more likely to draw public attention to the commission website and make the reports more, uh, valuable to the public with a few minor changes.  Therefore, I have an amendment.

THE SPEAKER:  Send it forward

(Doorman takes amendment to clerk).

THE SPEAKER:  Read the Amendment.

CLERK:   House Amendment Number One to House Bill Number 2059, page three, Section three, line 67, by striking the last sentence reading, “The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall not require a dollar valuation,” and substituting thereto the following language: “The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall require for each instance a dollar valuation, including but not limited to the cost of any meal, movie or other show or attraction, wine or other drink, limousine, carriage ride, or other forms of conveyance including but not limited to merry-go-rounds and airplanes affiliated with the gift, and any special clothing purchased or provided for the exchange of said gift. 

Further amend said bill with the following:

(4) The Missouri Ethics Commission shall require such information to be filed for each instance on a special form designated as Form 50, said form to also include the following information:

            —Was it as good for you as for the giver/recipient?

            —On ten-point basis, rate quality of giver.

            —On ten-point basis, rate quality of the receiving experience

            —Approximate length of time from beginning to end of gift exchange including any unwrapping. ______ hours ____minutes (approximations accepted)

            —Number of gifts given in 24-hour span ____

—Description of any restraints used (additional pages supplementary to the form are allowed).

—Mark one:  Daylight ___    Night ___

—Mark one:  Lights on ___ ­­­­Lights off ___

—Indoors ___ Outdoors ____

–Feathers?  Yes ___ No ___

—Were mirrors involved?  Yes ___ No ____

—(If applicable) Kind of vehicle in which gift was given

—(If applicable) Room in Capitol in which gift was given

—(If applicable) Description of non-Capitol room in which gift was given

—Description of any toys that facilitated exchange of gifts (use back of form if necessary.)

—Describe position(s) of the gifting parties during the time of the exchange (Additional pages supplementary to the form are allowed.).

—(If applicable) Describe any medications or other special applications that made the gift possible or of greater experience including but not limited to fruit and whipped cream (additional pages supplementary to the form are allowed.). 

—Number of participants:  two ­­­­­­­­­___   three ­­­­­­___Not to boast, but ­____

—Gift given to someone of different gender? Yes ­­­___ No ___ 5th Amendment ­­­___

—Was safe gifting exercised?  Yes ____  Uh-oh____

And renumbering following sections accordingly.

THE SPEAKER:  Gentleman from the 164th , Would you like to explain your amendment?

GENTLEMAN:  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I think the amendment is self-explanatory. As I said, I think it will encourage more people to find valuable information on the Missouri Ethics Commission website.  I move the adoption and will welcome any questions.