«RM75»«FC»COL212.PRB - Tyrannosaurus Rex of State Politics
The current legislative rush to push through an ethics package relates to an article I read this fall.
"The Tyrannosaurus Rex of State Politics" was published by the respected national magazine "Governing" that focuses on state and local government.
"Rex" refers to wealthy Missouri financier Rex Sinquefield who has dumped millions of dollars into Missouri political campaigns.
This campaign season he's given about $1 million to a Republican candidate for governor, Catherine Hanaway. A leading GOP candidate for attorney general, Kurt Schaefer, got $500,000 from Sinquefield's organization last year.
Previously, he funded the successful ballot issue to ban earnings taxes by most cities. He was the major force behind the legislature's income tax cuts -- going so far as to finance primary opponents to House Republicans who voted against the bill.
Sinquefield's political efforts go far deeper than you might realize.
The Senate's former president pro tem -- Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County -- resigned in 2015 to take a job with one of his organizations.
Before that, the former House speaker -- Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County -- was hired by a Sinquefield organization after leaving office.
The Missouri Senate's new communications director, Anne Marie Moy, is a former staffer for Sinquefield.
One of the leading candidates for lieutenant governor, Bev Randles, has been top a top staffer for one of Sinquefield's organization. Six months before she announced her candidacy, she got a $1 million contribution from Sinquefield.
The Kansas City Star reported it might be the largest single contribution to a Missouri candidate in the state's history.
Yet, none of these activities by Sinquefield would be constrained in any serious way by the measures before the legislature this year.
There is no bill to limit how much a special interest can spend on political advertising because the U.S. Supreme Court effective has ruled that would violate the Constitution's First Amendment right of free speech.
There is a bill moving through the Missouri General Assembly to impose a "cooling off" period before a legislator could register as a lobbyist to influence legislators.
But there's nothing proposed to require a "cooling off" period before a special interest employee could become a legislative staffer to influence legislators -- such as Sinquefield's former employee now working for the Senate.
Even the Democrats' call for campaign contribution limits would not be a barrier for Sinquefield.
He demonstrated that in 2008 when campaign contribution limits were still in effect. Sinquefield simply funded dozens of separate committees for each to contribute to his candidate for attorney general -- the victorious Chris Koster.
Sinquefield is not alone in the growing trend of using personal wealth to influence Missouri public policy.
Just a couple of years ago, a state senator dropped his reelection campaign after a wealthy businessman jumped into the race and promptly loaned his campaign $370,000 of his own money. With Brian Nieves out, Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County, easily won in 2014.
One of this year's Republican candidates for governor -- John Brunner -- nearly won the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2012 with a $7 million campaign that was financed almost entirely by his own personal funds.
But Brunner has offered an interesting perspective to this issue. Early in his gubernatorial campaign, he said that his wealth makes him independent of wealthy special interests.
He's got a point.
Come visit Missouri's Capitol someday when the legislature is in session. You'll find the hallways jammed with well-dressed lobbyists pushing the agendas of their wealthy clients -- as well as wining and dining legislators.
This growing army of special interests does make you wonder if the public would be better served by public servants rich enough to be immune to the contributions, job prospects and influence of well-financed special interests.
Yet, that idea does seem to approach the argument for a benevolent king.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]