Ethics bills deserve honest hearing for legislators to regain public trust
By Dwight Widaman | Editor
Restrictions on lobbyist influence onÂ politiciansÂ is slowly being debated inÂ theÂ Missouri Legislature. At this pace, it seems the bills are about as popular as a middle-schooler’s homework on a Sunday evening. And the people most affected by the proposals–lobbyists, continue to sit quietly as proposals to limit Â their ability toÂ influenceÂ policy with money, trips and booze start to be discussed at the Capitol.
A quick search of the word “ethics” in the House and Senate database listing this year’s bills brings up a list of Â two dozen proposed pieces of legislation specifically referring to ethics, campaign finance reform, and lobbyist regulation. Many of them want to limit big money in campaigns. Some want to keep legislators from also serving as political consultants while in office, raising money during sessions, and becoming lobbyists immediately upon leaving the legislature. Â All of them seam reasonable yet some don’t go far enough. Few, however, have gotten a committee hearing as the sessions speeds toward the halfway point.
Lee’s Summit Senator Will Kraus, who has explained his bill to a committee in a room packed with lobbyists, maintains laws don’t make people ethicalâ€¦and he doesn’t think Missouri politicians are unethical. “That being said,” Kraus explains, “my constituents overwhelmingly support caps.” So his bill limits campaign donations. But Senate Leader Tom Dempsey of St. Charles doubts campaign limits will restore public confidence in state government. It sure hasn’t done it with the federal government, he says. “It hasn’t done anything to reduce the influence of money in politicsâ€¦It hasn’t changed the perception among the people we serve, the people that you referenced, in terms of making things look better,” he tells Kraus.
A Missouri news outlet reports that Senator Jamilla Nasheed has told the committee changes need to be made because the public perception of politicians continues to decline. “Many of our constituents believe we are bought and paid for by special interest groups,” she says to the committee. “Many of you know that is farther from the truth. But we can dispel that myth.”
She proposes to do that by limiting campaign contributions to any candidate in any election to $2,600. Missouri has no contribution limits now, and Dempsey fears approval of limits now would give candidates who already are raising money for 2016 campaigns will be put at a substantial advantage over those who announce their intentions after the limits would go into effect in January.
Silence. That was the response of lobbyists watching the hearing on ethics legislation. Hmmm.
Many Christians would agree with Kraus that legislation in and of itself does not make people ethical. But it could be said that neither do speed limits keep people from speeding. But legislation, like speed limit signs, must serve as boundaries for accepted behavior. There is clear evidence that money does unduly influence Missouri politics. Metro Voice asks, “What are politicians afraid of?”
I believe that politics does not shape character, it reveals it. Â Legislators need to get off their collective bum and move legislation through the House that protects voters from undue influence of money–and lobbyists–in politics. If they can’t do that, then like a repeat offender who maxes out the points and loses their drivers license, their office must be taken away from them.
–For 25 years, Dwight Widaman has served as the publisher and editor of Metro Voice News, serving 110,000 print and online readers.