What is it?
Amendment 2 would limit personal and corporate campaign contributions.
Why is this on the November 8, 2016 ballot?
There had initially been campaign donation limits approved in 1994 by Missouri at near 74% of the vote. Former governor Matt Blunt and the Missouri Legislature overturned this “Proposition A” in 2006 and 2008 with the explanation that the identity of contributors would be public knowledge. Chris Koster, who as a state senator voted to repeal the limits (but now disavows it…while not refunding yuge donations toward his gubernatorial campaign), had the same reasoning. To see how campaign spending has gotten out of hand, two individuals have together donated roughly $15 million. Current Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Eric Greitens, has received the state’s largest single donation in history at close to $2 million.
What reasons are people giving for and against this amendment?
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
- Greater civic participation: Fred Sauer gives this argument and he is the initiator of the amendment. He also lost appallingly in his 2012 gubernatorial bid, and I wonder if that has something to do with his motivation to fight money in politics. I honestly don’t care about his motivation; this proposal would partially (get to that in a moment) decenter large contributors from drowning out the voice of the common person regardless of his intent. It is somewhat odd that a proposal to limit campaign donations is currently almost entirely funded by Sauer himself. However, as Senator Claire McCaskill has said (with a little paraphrase), sometimes you have to punch a bully really, really incessantly hard before he stops picking on you. Well, while she didn’t put it quite like that, she likes it that he’s using a lot of his money to fight other people using a lot of their money in order to help everyone else be able to use what little money they have.
- Provides transparency: Missouri Attorney General, and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Chris Koster makes this one. He states that there is too much money in this election. Which is true. Notwithstanding his recent conversion to donation caps (remember he voted to repealing that earlier?) and his current acceptance of large campaign donations, his current position on donation caps shouldn’t need a defense. If a murderer says murder is wrong, I’m not going to question the wrongness of murder just so I can say I disagree with that bad man. That would be like saying you don’t like Springfield Cashew Chicken because Hitler liked it. Sometimes good people and princes of darkness prefer the same food.
- Limits corruption: I’m going to keep coming back to this in a massive post on the unpersonhood of corporations, but for now I like how Todd Jones, the penmaster of the amendment, put it: “If you give a million dollars to a candidate, whose call are you going to take? Are you going to take mine? Or are you going to take the donor’s?” The majority opinion for Citizens United v. FEC contained a stupidly narrow understanding of how quid pro quoness goes down. Justice Stevens in his dissent asserted that there is a fine line between buying votes and buying preposterously easy proximity and influence. Or his actual words, “But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind” (p. 57(144)). This was empirically shown in a multivariate study where it was demonstrated that Joe Citizen has essentially “non-significant, near-zero” influence on public policy when compared to elites and organized interest groups (571-72 of that study). So yah: less money, less corruption potential.
- Legislatures can’t overturn people’s voice: this assertion comes from the League of Women Voters of Missouri. The exact words are “This amendment is probably the only way to enact contribution limits that then cannot be overturned by the legislature.” An amendment is pretty hard to overturn. Article 12 Section 2(b) of Missouri’s Constitution lists the parameters for how amendments can be submitted. Here is the restriction on further emendation: “No such proposed amendment shall contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” So this could be a double-edged sword. What is a very potential con part of this pro is that augmenting it would take some work, especially after the inevitable court battle that will ensue after Amendment 2 passes. More on this on argument 9.
- Arguments 5-7 are really variations on the theme that this proposed amendment “does not go far enough.” A spokesperson for Eric Greitens notes that it does not limit already wealthy people from self-funding. The editorial board for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch addresses that the proposal doesn’t speak to lobbying restrictions. The fact that this proposal doesn’t put caps on local and county elections further adds to its weaknesses. However, a weak proposal is better than the current crap we have. Senator McCaskill essentially says as much. As she says, this proposal is “a great first step,” I assume toward broader campaign finance reform, but I’m not her, so I ain’t sure.
- Does not affect super-PACS: Jason Rosenbaum has highlighted the following: “it would not place limits on contributions to any third-party committee (one that is not set up by a candidate).” You and I, dear reader, can thank the bonehead majority justices in Citizens United v. FEC for that. In their bonehead reasoning, corporations are people, too. As I just mentioned, I will be writing on that at length. Speaking of corporate peoples…
- Limits freedom of speech and association: this was the problem Missouri Electric Cooperatives and Legends Bank had before Missouri’s higher courts told them to take a hike until after the election. They think the measure is “neither reasonably related nor narrowly tailored to address any interest of the State of Missouri.” A conservative think-tank sees this at best as a curb against non-existent hypothetical corruption, but definitely a violation of constitutional rights of those poor, downtrodden corporations. I’d like to punch a corporation in the jaw to teach it some manners, but alas its personhood is amorphous. Maybe corporations are like ghosts: they have personalities, but don’t have bodies and pester the living. I wonder if you can marry a corporation or adopt a baby with it. I wonder if you can commit involuntary manslaughter against it. I’ll pick a more detailed fight with this ridiculous personhood argument later, but for now, I cavalierly dismiss any notion of rights pertaining to a corporation.
I give a measured YES. We need this as a start, but come on, we cannot let this legislature get away from us. There are way more average Missourians (in a modal sense; as an arithmetic mean that statement lacks any coherence) than there are millionaire Missourians, and we want impact. Too much money from one sector poisons the well.
So vote YES on November 8, but don’t stop there. Push to shore up the limitations of this proposal: on lobbying, local/county elections, the 28th constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and perhaps flat limits on total campaign spending (like where there are individual donation limits, but overall donation limits as well; e.g., each campaign has a $10 million maximum limit to do with as they please). Share your ideas to see how we can further campaign finance reform in Missouri and in the US of A.