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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Missouri, a Best Example of the Worst in American Politics

One of the things that most all people of the US, from whatever political leanings, can likely agree on is that there is not just too much money in our political process, our election system and campaigns but that there's FAR too much money in it all.  Corporations and the wealthy, with all their money---their tax deductable money, as it turns out--can, in effect, buy their legislators, OUR legislators and so, our legislation, our laws and so, finally, our government. It's well-documented, legalized bribery.

And in no state is this more possible and even rampant than here in our own Missouri.

Because, you see, several years ago, the Republicans in Jefferson City decided they would take away any and all campaign contribution limits so "Katy, bar the door." Because of it, we have gotten things like this:

One man, one St. Louisan, Rex Sinquefield is trying to buy his own candidate for state office in Jefferson City. His political party made it legal.

It gets worse but it's from the same guy:

One man out of the entire state fueling more money to more candidates than any one other person or organization. From the article:

Since making his fortune with his California investment firm and returning to his native state in 2005, Sinquefield has donated more than $37 million to Missouri state-level candidates and causes, according to records. He is by far the most prolific political patron in the history of the state, and one of the biggest in the country.

Think he doesn't have and ideas on pulling political and government strings? Check out this beauty:

In addition to the Missouri contributions, the Sinquefields have given more than $2.3 million in the last decade to 527 committees, which are tax-exempt organizations that can raise unlimited money for general political activities. At least one of those donations has stirred controversy.

It was a $300,000 donation last year to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which subsequently gave its Missouri affiliate $305,050 — most of which went into an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce. Joyce had earlier issued a ruling that in effect killed Sinquefield’s proposed tax overhaul in 2012.

Sinquefield’s spokespeople refused to answer questions before the election about his apparent role in trying to oust Joyce, and his donation to the umbrella group didn’t show up until afterward.

How can that be healthy, politically?

Now, mind you, after covering 37 million dollars in campaign contributions from one man makes $50,000 in donations seem like peanuts but now this has developed:

Two donations to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger tell you everything you need to know about how messed up Missouri’s campaign finance laws are.

The donations, $25,000 each, were made in July and November, but the story really starts about two years ago, in May 2013. Stenger was on the County Council, which was considering a vote on a $30 million cost overrun at the new family court center. Stenger criticized then-County Executive Charlie Dooley for accepting a $10,000 campaign donation from Alberici Construction around the same time the company was seeking the extra $30 million to finish the project. Stenger called it “fishy,” which it was.

Of course, Stenger would later challenge and defeat Dooley, in part on a campaign platform that Dooley was in the pocket of his donors. You see, this is the thing about campaign donations: They’re always fishy when the other guy receives them. Whether it’s two Democrats, as in Stenger and Dooley, or Republicans criticizing each other or members of the other party, elected officials rarely see problems with their own donations, only the other guy’s.

That’s why transparency is so important, so voters, and competing candidates, can make fair judgments about the money elected officials receive to keep them in office.

Fast-forward to Aug. 13 of this year. That’s when David Richardson, an attorney with Husch Blackwell in St. Louis, filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office to form a new limited liability company, Givco LLC. Richardson, who deals primarily in real estate law and tax credits, was merely representing clients, whose names don’t appear on the LLC documents on file with the state. This is legal in Missouri, and quite common. It makes it difficult to track down the people behind the LLC, which isn’t necessarily a problem until that company throws itself into the political process.

Givco did that two weeks after it was formed, giving Stenger $25,000. A company with seemingly anonymous backers forms. Two weeks later it gives a big check to a county executive. Fishy, yes?

Local government watchdog Tom Sullivan criticized the donation at the next County Council meeting. Nobody paid too much attention, perhaps in part because nobody knew who was behind the money. Then, on Nov. 5, Givco gave again. Another $25,000 to Stenger. At $50,000 this year, that made Givco the county executive’s biggest individual donor.

The people behind Givco, it turns out, are developers David and Bob Glarner, the brothers who are behind a multimillion-dollar development to bring life back to the Northwest Plaza area. I know this only because Stenger told me when I asked him about Givco. There is no public record paper trail that ties Givco to the Glarners...

"In Missouri, of course, all of this is legal, which is why the state received a D-minus in a recent national report on government ethics by the Center for Public Integrity. It starts with being one of the few states to allow unlimited donations, making $25,000 checks relatively common in Missouri politics. Last year there were 441 campaign donations of that amount or higher in the state. In 2015, an off-election year, there have already been 238."

What this all so clearly points out is how the money, the big money, is flowing from the wealthy, as in the case of Mr.Sinqfield, and corporations, as in the case of the Glarneys and Givco, to our state and federal government representatives.

Folks, we have got to Get the Big, Ugly Money Out of Our Election System and Government. We need to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and end campaign contributions, entirely, once and for all and as soon as possible. 

And it has to come from us.

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