Special Report: Campaign Cash in Missouri, Former House Speaker Rod Jetton on Money in Politics

In Missouri Politics, if cash isn’t king, its his cousin, the campaign check.
“Obviously $100,000 checks were rare back in 2000, they’re not so rare today”, said former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton.
The Missouri Ethics Commission even has a place on its website where contributions over $5,000 are reported daily.
In the first four months of 2012, almost $15 million ($14.9) came in large donations for candidates and causes.
The leader among individual is St. Louis businessman Rex Sinquefield. He contributes $2.2 million in four months.
In one check along, $1.2 million to a group that wants to put eliminating the state incomes tax to a state-wide vote.
Missouri’s democratic Governor Jay Nixon has netted $1.2 million in large contributions.
His likely rival in November, businessman Dave Spence has collected more than $1 million from big donors. Spence himself gave his campaign $250,000.
Again, this is just the big checks, not all of their contributions.
“They’re giving you money in hopes you support their position”, says Jetton.
He should know. In eight years he rose from the back bench of the Missouri House to become the Speaker. He was known as a fierce partisan force before his downfall.
He even operated his own political consulting firm on the side, while Speaker. Some of his clients were some of the same politicians who relied on him to move their bills.
It was all legal.
Jetton is on the outskirts of politics now. He says he analyzes races and campaigns for a subscription political website.
He recalls that he, and many other lawmakers he suspects, come to Jefferson City with a set of core political beliefs and a few key issues they’re familiar with.
“When you get there, there’s so many things you vote on that you have no clue! Things you’ve never even heard of,” he recalls.
Jetton says that’s when many lawmakers fall back, relying on the donors and lobbyists. Once they gave money. Now they’re giving advice.
That’s how money often influences politics.
“OK, Everybody in politics—when I was in politics says, ‘eh, it doesn’t affect me. I can go out to dinner and doesn’t affect me’. We all say that. And I think we mean it. But you deceive yourself.”
Some think the answer is to limit campaign contributions.
But others think that doesn’t work either.
In Missouri, there are hundreds of political committees, campaign committees, and lobbyists who give political money.
For example when imaginary candidate John Dough wants to run for the imaginary First District, he sets up a campaign committee. His supporters, and organizations that agree with his positions, contribute. They all hope he wins.
But there may be other political committees interested in this imaginary campaign.
Maybe there is ‘First District Committee; and maybe a ’Good Government Committee’; perhaps there is a political group, too.
All of the secondary groups may be beyond candidate Dough’s legal control.
And maybe they are all secretly linked.
When candidate Dough’s behind-the-scenes political boss wants to hide his big donation he works like this:
He splits the big donation into several smaller one. Then he may funnel the money through the other committees, hiding the real identity of the contributor.
“And to me, that’s just laundering out the money to make it look legal”, said former State Representative Tim Flook of Liberty. He and Democrat Jason kinder offered a bill in 2010 to prevent that practice.
Flook says the hidden committee system was in place and in used when Missouri had campaign contribution limits. Flook says it’s still there today.
“The result for the public is they’re not getting the truth in that scenario, states Flook.
Millions of dollars will go into the campaigns for the control of the Missouri legislature this year. There are few rules on how politicians, lobbyists and campaign operatives spend money in Missouri or how they raise it.
“You can really push the envelope, if you want to,” according to Flook.
Jetton adds many politicians and the Missouri political crowd like the lack of restrictions on how money is handled in state politics. They’re pretty sure most of the voters are not aware.
“But the bottom line is most people don’t even care. They don’t get involved in this stuff.

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2 Responses

  1. An excellent piece…this is an area that every citizen needs to be educated about….the money-political influence-corporate triad…

  2. Sorry – typos in these pieces drive me crazy. Just can’t read 20 Pounds of Headlines any more.

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