WHEN CAMPAIGN FINANCE reformers launched an initiative petition
last year, they assembled at the law office of Morris B. Kessler in
downtown St. Louis.
In one year before the 1992 general election, Kessler had
contributed an attention-getting sum of $28,684 to then-Attorney
General William L. Webster's campaign for Missouri governor.
"We thought the Webster-Kessler relationship was the best
symbol of why there needs to be campaign finance reform in the
state," said Craig Robbins, an organizer for the petitioners.
"That's probably the clearest connection between campaign
contributions and public policy."
Robbins' group, the Association of Community Organizations for
Reform Now (ACORN), succeeded in getting enough signatures to put
the petition on the Nov. 8 ballot as Proposition A.
At the same time he was contributing to Webster's campaign,
Kessler was collecting thousands of dollars from the Second Injury
Fund, a state workers' compensation program defended by Webster's
office. Kessler later testified in federal court that he had made
the campaign contributions to get larger settlements from the state
Webster denied any connection. Both men are serving federal
prison sentences. Webster pleaded guilty to charges that he used
state resources in his political campaigns, and Kessler pleaded
guilty to abuse of the Second Injury Fund.
Getting The Big Money Out
If Proposition A's provisions had been in effect three years
ago, Kessler would have overspent the state's campaign contribution
limit by $28,384. Proposition A would put a low ceiling on how much
can be contributed to candidates for state and local offices. In
the case of a candidate for governor, for example, the limit would
be $300 for the primary and general elections.
"This is something that will get the big money out of
politics," said Andy Igrejas, a spokesman for Missourians for
Campaign Finance Reform, a coalition of groups pushing for
Proposition A's passage. "The goal is to limit the influence of
special interests in government and make campaigns more democratic
and make officeholders more accountable. . . .
This will start a process of restoring the public's faith in
Certainly, there is a perception in Missouri that too much
money is spent in political campaigns. A poll conducted in July and
released recently by the League of Women Voters showed that 90
percent of those questioned believed "there's way too much money in
But is sharply limiting how much can be contributed in an
election the way to solve the problem?
"It's not a wise idea," said Ronald M. Levin, a law professor
at Washington University.
"It could have some negative effects on the political system by
making it difficult or impossible for candidates to finance their
campaigns. One way or another, we have to have an election system
in which candidates have resources to get their message out," Levin
added. "People know very little about their candidates and their
views now. I think it's complete fiction to say candidates are
spending too much now."
Proposition A would limit campaign contributions to $300 for
statewide offices, $200 for elections in districts of more than
100,000 residents and $100 in districts with less than 100,000. The
limits apply to an "election cycle," meaning both a primary and
general election. The same limit applies to all sources of
contributions - individuals, political action committees,
businesses and unions.
Campaign finance laws in force now contain no limits on
contributions. But a bill approved by the Legislature and signed by
Gov. Mel Carnahan will impose contribution and spending limits in
January. Those contribution limits are $250 for each election for
the state house, $500 for the state Senate and $1,000 for statewide