Mr. Rory Rowland Goes To Jefferson City (or, Independence Democrat looks to enact campaign contribution limits)

From the It Never Hurts To Ask category, Rep. Rory Rowland has introduced a bill that would put an end to the six-figure checks that get cut to Missouri politicians by special interests.

Rowland is a freshman House Democrat from Independence who won a special election to take over for Noel Torpey. Tropey last year resigned to become a lobbyist in Jefferson City.

Torpey’s career change, migrating from a lawmaker one day to an automatically connected lobbyist the next, is but one example of the types of things that go on in Jefferson City — things that have earned Missouri its ethically deficient reputation.

Missouri lawmakers pledged to make ethics reform a priority in 2016, after the scene in the statehouse got so ugly that two prominent legislators, House Speaker John Diehl and Sen. Paul LeVota, resigned amid scandal. While their resignations were tied to claims of sexual improprieties, their behavior was chalked up as symptomatic of a bigger disease brought on by the sense of entitlement that accompanies campaign contribution largesse and an inflow of lobbying gifts.

So far, lawmakers have followed up that promise with tepid approaches to ethics reform. One example: There’s a bill floating around that would require a one year “cooling-off period” after a lawmaker left his or her post before becoming a lobbyist. But there’s a catch: The law would apply to lawmakers elected this November and thereafter. In others words, “Cooling off period for thee but not for me.”

Rowland’s bill represents the Holy Grail of ethics reform in Missouri. House Bill 2501 sets campaign contribution limits to state candidates at $2,700 per election cycle. That limit would adjust for inflation each election cycle afterward.

“Throughout my district, the people are overwhelmingly in favor of capping contribution limits,” Rowland said in a written statement.

That’s probably true. But the people who make the rules — Rowland’s colleagues in the capital, many of whom have campaign accounts flush with big-dollar checks — tend not to share that sentiment. Various proposals like Rowland’s have failed over the years. 

As things stand today, powerful interests can lavish certain key lawmakers with outsized donations. Exhibit A is Kurt Schaefer, the Columbia Republican who has amassed $750,000 in political donations for his run for Attorney General from super donor Rex Sinquefield.

What’s one thing Sinquefield doesn’t like? Earnings taxes, like the one paid by people who either live or work in St. Louis or Kansas City. So who, as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, sponsored a bill repealing the earnings tax? If you guessed Schaefer, treat yourself to a steak dinner tonight.

It’s that sort of thing that Rowland wants to stop. It’s an admirable, but steeply uphill effort.

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