American politics is, far and away, made of money. Whether you consider it healthy capitalist representation of interests or corrupt stifling of ordinary citizens’ voices by the rich, it cannot be denied that donations run politics and influence politicians — their initiatives, their priorities and, in some cases, their opinions. It’s fundamental, and since the very beginning of our country, we have struggled with the proper role of money and interests in government.
Gov. Jay Nixon continued that long debate last week during his State of the State address to Missouri legislators when he urged them to pass legislation setting a cap on contributions to campaigns for all state offices. He denounced the current lack of donation limits in no uncertain terms.
“The single most destructive force to our system is the unlimited sums of money pouring into the campaign accounts of candidates seeking public office,” he said.
Is the governor speaking from personal experience? Was the lengthy condemnation of political donations in his address a pledge to serve his second gubernatorial term in avoidance of special interests? Missouri Ethics Commission donation reports suggest otherwise.
Between Dec. 31, 2012 and Jan. 30, 2013, these reports show that Nixon’s PAC received $261,000 in donations from corporations and one political action committee. In fact, the same day of his address attacking corporate money in Missouri politics, Nixon received $10,000 from St. Louis-based World Wide Technology, Inc. for his inauguration ceremonies.
That’s hypocrisy, plain and simple. Regardless of what the governor does in response to such donations, it’s hypocritical to speak from the bully pulpit against an institution you are simultaneously participating in, seemingly without reservation.
We understand there is a big difference between simply receiving money and actually letting that money influence you. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Nixon, who apparently has let his donations influence, if not dictate, his daily schedule this month — subverting his claims that money in politics can do nothing but harm.
Let’s take an example. Ford Motor Company donated $10,000 to Nixon on Dec. 31. On Jan. 16, he traveled to Detroit (possibly in his new $5.6 million plane to meet with officials from Ford and General Motors. As a result, there may be more strong local jobs coming to Missouri from Ford.
That’s a good thing. Ford tossed some coins Nixon’s way, and his ears perked up. The donation probably helped move business forward. It seems like money in politics does indeed help sometimes.
Obviously, though, it becomes a destructive force when the money a politician receives changes his or her opinions or plans. But that’s not something that could necessarily be curtailed by limiting donations to a certain amount; that takes a culture shift, possibly through politicians using public transparency to hold themselves accountable (or, at least, subject to massive criticism anytime they placed big donors over the common interest).
It would also be farcical to claim that a donation to a sitting official is different than a donation to an aspiring one. Money talks, and money forges connections that politicians rarely forget, especially when it comes in large sums. Whether you donate during a campaign or afterwards, you’re donating so that the politician will have the ability and inclination to help you out. If you’re going to cap campaign donations, you need to cap donations to officeholders’ PACs along with it.
What we need to hear from Nixon, then, is where he draws the line. He should clarify what he thinks is an acceptable cap on donations, and more importantly, demonstrate why a cap is needed and how it would change the political landscape for the better. He should elaborate on his personal disposition towards and treatment of donations to his PAC, and distinguish the “bad” money — donations intended to help make the rich richer, for example — from the “good” money, such as the Ford donation that may result in quality jobs for Missourians.
So go ahead, Governor. We’re willing to listen to your ideas on money in politics, both during and after campaigns. After all, if you want to change the entire nature of Missouri politics — a noble cause, to be sure — it’s going to take a lot more than words. Like much of what goes on in the Statehouse, the campaign finance “crisis” is well talked-about, but rarely acted on.
We’ve heard plenty of talk about your possible candidacy for president in 2016. What better way is there to demonstrate how you champion the common man than to lead a reform of political donations in Missouri with transparency and honesty?
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