by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist.
The amount of money in state politics today is out of control and getting worse. A candidate running for the Missouri House should be prepared to raise between $40,000 and $80,000. A prospective senator will need between $100,000 and $300,000. I have no idea how many millions a candidate for governor in the next election will need to raise.
Where does this money come from? Each campaign has to file reports with the Ethics Commission. The reports are posted on a public Web site, so you might think it would be easy to find out. Unfortunately, it is not. The reason is most of the money pouring into politics today is transferred through political committees.
In previous years, the General Assembly limited the amount of money individuals can give to a candidate: $325 to House candidates, $650 to Senate candidates and $1,250 to candidates for statewide offices. The idea was not to limit the amount a candidate could spend on a campaign — possibly an unconstitutional limit on free speech — but rather to make sure the money raised by a campaign was not from a small group of powerful individuals. You want to spend $300,000 on your campaign? Then find a thousand people to give you $300, not three people to give you $100,000.
Unfortunately, lawmakers left a back door open by allowing political committees to contribute nearly 10 times the individual amount to a candidate in direct money and another 10 times in in-kind contributions, such as bus rides, bumper stickers, signs, etc.
What are political committees? Established by law, each major political party has them. There are four major types: county, House district, Senate district and congressional district. Missouri has 114 counties, 163 House districts, 34 Senate districts and nine congressional districts. So the Republican and Democratic parties each have at least 320 political committees that can make contributions.
The committees exist for lots of reasons besides raising money for candidates, but since the contribution limits were imposed the money game has largely overshadowed other functions.
Here is how that game is played: If I want to give $300,000 to my friend Joe who is a House candidate, I send out checks to 30 political committees for $10,000 each, and then Joe can request a $10,000 contribution from each of those committees. By law, the committees can do…