Bit by Bit
The Post-Dispatch ran an article this morning about a pair of bills recently introduced in the General Assembly that would seek to drastically change Missouri’s policies on political contributions for state contests. The first, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields (R–St. Joseph) seeks to eliminate the contribution limits established by Missouri voters after a 1994 petition. The second, brought by Sen. Jeff Smith (D–St. Louis) takes a more populist view by instead promoting a system of public funding revolving around a number of small donations.
Shield’s bill is the latest in a decade-long back-and-forth debate between supporters and opponents of campaign finance limits that has already seen a U.S. Supreme Court decision (that helped pave the way for a certain piece of federal legislation that I’m rather fond of), and a Missouri Supreme Court decision. Removing limits, supporters claim, will actually increase transparency by eliminating the need for wealthy donors to shuffle money through PACs. This argument, though, has been echoed for years. Much more exciting, in this author’s opinion, is Sen. Smith’s idea:
"[Smith] wants to ‘draw a contrast’ between special interest-funded campaigns
and his model, where candidates would get public funding if they
garnered a certain number of $5 donations."
The goal of campaign finance reform isn’t to destroy the 1st Amendment (although this may be disputed by some of my colleagues). Instead, limits exist in order to ensure that the voices of a few with extraordinary means don’t drown out the words of others who can’t (financially) shout as loud. Smith’s bill hopes to correct this disparity by giving those who have proven their support through small donations the public financing they need to compete with candidates receiving the backing of a few massive donors. Although public financing has often been disputed for its ineffectiveness in campaigns, I think the populist nature of Smith’s bill does more to promote the idea of free speech than the removal of any limits ever could.
It’s a good idea. It’s a shame even he doesn’t think it will pass.