Sixty-two percent of those voting in the most recent election voted in favor of Amendment 1, commonly referred to as the Clean Missouri Amendment. Thus, 1,469,093 people said that they wanted the Missouri Constitution amended to require reforms to campaign finance, lobbying and redistricting. This was a bipartisan effort as both Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass these reforms.
I read recently that some members of the Missouri General Assembly are going to attempt to undo or revise some of these changes. The General Assembly cannot undo what the voters have done unless there is another amendment. Frankly, we should all watch closely. If any legislator does anything to tamper with the will of the people, we should consider removing that person from office.
Part of the problem with term limits is that as some legislators reach the limit of their terms, they do not have to be as accountable to their constituents because they are on their way out the door. Some representatives then run for the Senate, so those persons do have accountability. Yet, sometimes even with the prospect of re-election to their current office or to a higher office, they are sneaky in crafting “tweaks” to the law to limit the impact of the constitutional amendment. Fortunately, those who gathered the signatures to put the amendment on the ballot and then worked to get the amendments passed will be vigilant as we proceed.
I must confess that I did not carefully read the amendment language but relied on the ballot proposition to make my decision to vote for this amendment. I suspect that most of the voters did the same thing.
The ballot proposition provides for changing the process and criteria for redrawing boundaries for legislative districts during reapportionment, imposes limits on political contributions to candidates for the state legislature, establishes limits on gifts to legislators and their employees, prohibits legislators from working as lobbyists for two years after leaving office, prohibits fundraising on state property, and requires legislative meetings and records to be open to the public.
The ballot language did not tell you how the process for redrawing the districts was to be done, what the limits were for campaign contributions, how legislators were restricted in receiving gifts, and how long legislators who leave office must wait before becoming paid lobbyists. You would have to know the specific language of the amendment to determine the specifics of each proposition.
The changes were made to Article III of the Missouri Constitution entitled “Legislative Department.” Five different sections were amended in this article. The first one merely provides that legislators have to wait two years before becoming paid lobbyists. Some legislators in the past have actually left their positions in the middle of the term to start working as paid lobbyists for special interests.
Three representatives resigned their positions this week, so they could become lobbyists before the effective date of the amendments. Some suspect that some legislators lobby to become lobbyists during their time in office. It obviously creates the opportunity for undue influence. “Scratch my back” and you can become a back scratcher yourself is the practice now prohibited.
Another excellent provision limits the gifts to the legislators and their staffs to $5. Thus, the practice of giving gifts to legislators has been significantly limited. Prohibited gifts include any tangible or intangible item, service or thing of value.
Another provision limits the amount of money that can be contributed for a candidate for the Senate ($2,500) or the House of Representatives ($2,000). This is good, but not the best part of the provision. That would be the provision that prohibits any money given in a fictitious name or in such a manner to conceal the identity of the actual source of the money, and when money is received from a committee or organization primarily funded by a single person, individual, it will be presumed that it was done with the intent of circumventing the law. If a committee or organization receives more than 50 percent of its annual income from one individual, it is primarily funded by an individual.
The obvious purpose of these provisions is to limit the influence of special-interest groups on the legislative process. The use of “dark money” has had a profound influence on elections in Missouri and other states. The voters of Missouri have expressed in strong terms that they don’t want big and dark money to have any influence in the electoral process.
The final changes deal with the process for redrawing legislative boundaries. A new post called the “non-partisan state demographer” is established through a non-partisan process to assist in the fair apportionment of boundaries for representative and senatorial districts. The districts must have equal numbers of voters in them and shall be designed in a manner that achieves partisan fairness and competitiveness. The goal of the amendment is to prevent gerrymandering, the practice of drawing boundaries to benefit a particular political party.
There has been some discussion of a court challenge to the amendment and even a new amendment in 2020 to make revisions to the 2018 changes. Let’s watch and see who funds and promotes those efforts. Special-interest groups and wealthy donors are like vampires who lurk in the darkness looking for victims, but to borrow words from Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, hopefully the voters of Missouri will not go quietly into the good night.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.