by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Candidates for Missouri’s statewide and legislative seats are already raising an enormous amount of money for the 2008 election. In the last quarter alone, Gov. Matt Blunt raised $1.6 million, and his Democratic challenger, Jay Nixon, raised $1 million.
But unlike previous election cycles, this time we know where the money is coming from. Blunt accepted $100,000 from Bob and Doylene Perry of Houston, $51,000 from Gerald Cook of Springfield and $50,000 from AT&T, along with numerous other large donations. Likewise, Nixon’s large donors included $100,000 from the labor union AFSCME, $25,000 from the Strong Law Firm in Springfield and $25,000 from the Alton, Ill.-based law firm SimmonsCooper.
We know who the big donors are because the Missouri General Assembly passed a law in 2006 to eliminate both limits on campaign contributions and the shell game of passing money through political committees to get around contribution limits. Before this change, large donors had to pass numerous small contributions through a series of political committees to contribute $25,000 or $100,000 to a candidate. The routing of funds through one or more committees made it nearly impossible for anyone other than the contributor or the candidate to know who was funding whom.
Unfortunately, this brief season of transparency — about who is giving big contributions to candidates — appears to be over. Last week the Missouri Supreme Court struck down this law, essentially reinstating the previous individual contribution limits of $325 to House candidates, $650 to Senate candidates and $1,250 to candidates for statewide offices. The court has also reinstated the shell game of moving money through political committees.
Although reinstating the contribution limits will do nothing to decrease the amount of money flowing into political campaigns, it will serve to obscure the identities of those who are funding these campaigns.
“What you’re going to see is people re-establish the district committees — which have pretty much disappeared because they don’t really have any relevance now — and then people will spend time raising money through those district committees,” Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, told Tribune reporter Jason Rosenbaum. “The truth of it is it’s a wink-and-nod system.”