Campaign Reform Proposals Abound; Missouri on the Way, More Can Be Done
Senturia, Ben, St. Louis Journalism Review
The debate over solutions to the problem of money in politics is accelerating in Missouri.
The public seems clear enough about the problem. As the cost of elections has gone up, the connection between special interest money and elected officials has grown tighter. Qualified candidates of average means are increasingly unable to compete for higher office without committing themselves to big money interests. It is clear that there is too much money, particularly special interest money, in our political process.
The result is that big campaign contributions are basically bribes which buy votes, business contracts, and returned phone calls. Missourians have recently watched as money from gambling interests has affected the outcome of elections. We have watched attorneys contribute to Bill Webster's campaign for governor in order to earn lucrative second injury fund work. We have seen the S&L scandal, caused at least partially by the influence purchased with campaign contributions, consume billions of tax dollars. And now we are watching as the health care debate is dominated by big spending special interests. As of June, health care and insurance interests had spent $26.4 million on contributions to candidates for Congress in the '93-'94 election cycle. It will surprise no one that this is a 40 percent increase over the '91-'92 cycle.
Most citizens are unsure as to what represents a good solution to money in politics. Some blame the politicians -- but politicians are as much victims as we are. Our system of privately financed elections encourages legalized bribery. Voting "the bums out" won't change the role of big money in elections. The problem is the system, not the politicians.
The discussion about solutions also gets derailed among political and opinion leaders. Too frequently the debate about comprehensive reform has first asked, "What is politically possible now?" The result is a hodgepodge of ideas, some of which are helpful and some not. Instead, we should be asking, "What proposal will create the kind of comprehensive system that we want in Missouri?" Then we should ask what the practical political steps are that would make such a program possible. …