The Joplin Globe: Senate president pro tem on campaign contribution limits: ‘It’s just not going to happen’

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The shuffling of political money and the transparency surrounding it were hot topics among legislators as journalists swarmed the Capitol for The Associated Press/Missouri Press Association Day.

During a question-and-answer session at the Governor’s Mansion, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, put in his final word about whether campaign contribution limits — Missouri doesn’t have any — would be addressed this session.

“I know you all have questions about campaign limits,” Richard said unprompted. “I know you all want it, we don’t. It’s just not going to happen.”

Earlier in the day, Sens. Jill Schupp and Rob Schaaf, as well as Rep. Jay Barnes, spoke about ethics and campaign finance reform in a panel discussion.

Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said the House is unlikely to pass campaign finance limits because if limits existed, the already large amount of campaign contributions would go underground, not disappear altogether.

“I think enacting limits, all it does is send (money) through other routes that make it less transparent,” Barnes said.

Both Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat, and Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, agreed more transparency was needed when it came to contributions made by nonprofit organizations with a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.

Those organizations are “social welfare” groups that can only spend 49 percent of their money on political activities, such as lobbying and campaign contributions. Unlike super political action committees, they are not required by law to report who their donors are and do not have to act independently of a candidate. However, a 501(c)(4) group does need to report large expenditures and campaign contributions in its yearly 990 tax forms. The National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club are examples of 501(c)(4) groups.

Schaaf said with the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case to consider money as a form of free speech that can’t be limited, campaign contributions have gotten out of control, with 501(c)(4)s leading the way.

He said that “501(c)(4)s are just a big loophole that everybody walks through.”

Schupp called contributions by 501(c)(4)s the “dark money” of politics. Schupp filed a bill about 501(c)(4)s having to electronically disclose expenditures used for electioneering activities, such as advertisements and fliers. Schupp said in a world of instant misinformation through social media, the more transparency of official sources means a more informed citizenry.

“That’s why if you have access to the source and where things came from and where monies have moved, I just think you are in a better position to know where the truth lies,” Schupp said.

Regarding campaign contribution limits, “I think it gives people confidence that the electorate is not bought and sold,” Schupp said.

Barnes, who is chairman of the committee through which several ethics bills have passed, was once a proponent of 501(c)(4) transparency, going so far as to write an opinion piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in favor of it. However, he said he has since changed his mind.

“I thought about how angry these 501(c)(4) ads make me as a sitting legislator,” Barnes said. “They make me want vengeance against the people I think are buying them because they are absolutely cowardly.”

Barnes said that made him realize 501(c)(4) donors would, if their identities were made public, would have to fear backlash from elected officials that they might have spent against.

Schaaf said the need for transparency should transcend a possible legislator’s anger. He said too many legislators benefit from 501(c)(4) groups and that the only way to stop the spending would be through a ballot initiative.

This post was written by