February 18, 2015
Jefferson City, MO (TFC) – At the beginning of this month Missouri State Senator Rob Schaaf of Missouri’s 34th district declared the need for “sweeping campaign finance reform” and proposed the Missouri Anti-Corruption Act as a means of criminalizing corruption in America.
The Missouri Anti-Corruption Act is an adapted version of the American Anti-Corruption Act template that was drafted by the activist organization Represent.us. This proposed bill has language inside it that is sacrilege in today’s modern political arena: It proposes brazen new transparency laws that demand Super PACs abide by the same contribution limits that apply to other federal committees. It would eradicate the 2 year revolving door lobbyist system currently in place. It would limit donations from individuals to under $500 per calender year. Most importantly, it is designed to eliminate corporate investors from controlling how Congress votes with gross sums of hidden cash.
Though Missouri is the first state to endorse this bill in the state Senate, it is not the first state in which the bill has been introduced. On November 4, 2014, Tallahassee, FL made history by passing the first piece of anti-corruption legislation ever in US history. Using a binding ballot initiative process and thousands of petition signatures, residents in Tallahassee brought the Anti-Corruption Act into municipal law.
Mere days after the Koch brothers pledged the record-setting, disgusting total of $889 million to the 2016 Republican campaign Senator Schaaf made his endorsement announcement. Unlike when a 16 year old kid announces on live TV which college illegally bribed him to play on their campus, this was an endorsement that mattered. Unlike the NFL draft, no one is talking about this endorsement.
This is an extremely important step towards legitimizing American Democracy. The unwieldy corruption in this country has to be addressed and measures need to be taken to contain and minimize its effects. Senator Schaaf voiced his concerns about the American public’s faith in Congress last week at the Missouri Senate, “Unfortunately, Missouri lacks many safeguards that would prevent special interests from improperly influencing lawmakers. As a result, the average person has a hard time trusting us lawmakers to always act in the best interest of Missouri.”
Schaaf specifically draws attention to the provision outlining the cool-off period for senators to become lobbyists. Senator Schaaf explains why it is important, “The purpose of this anti-revolving door provision is to take the problem off the table. If the concern is that legislators are putting their own interests [to get a lobbying job that pays well] in front of the interests of the people… this provision addresses that conflict of interest by removing the possibility it will happen.”
The Missouri State Senate proved Senator Schaaf’s concerns about public perception of Congressional corruption were 100% valid. Upon introducing this bill, a lobbyist committee added one sentence to the provision concerning Senators becoming lobbyists that completely changes the intended effects of the provision. Senator Schaaf explains, “…Something happened between the introduced version and the committee substitute. These words were added, [Beginning his or her term 2017 or thereafter.] These words have the effect of causing this revolving door prohibition not to apply to current legislators. We have exempted ourselves from the intended fix.”
The Missouri Senate managed to manipulate a bill designed to criminalize corruption into a bill that permits corruption with 8 words. A bill called THE ANTI-CORRUPTION ACT! This is the level of convoluted sophistication that corruption has reached in recent years. Luckily, Senator Schaaf rejected the revised version last week.
Currently, Senators have to wait 2 years to become lobbyists once they leave the Senate if they earn 75% of a Senators salary. House representatives must wait 1 year. However, both are permitted to operate without restriction as lobby aids or advisors in a “background role” at any time during or after their official term in Congress. They are also free to lobby the executive branch without restriction at any time. The Missouri Anti-Corruption act calls for extension of the cool-off period to 5 years for Senators, Representatives, and staff members as well as prohibiting any and all “behind the scenes” lobbying.
Lobbyists are the people responsible for influencing Congress’s votes. They work for private companies and they represent their employer’s interests. When members of Congress have a goal to become lobbyists there is absolutely zero incentive or need for them to vote anyway other than how a corporation tells them to. Lobbyists also receive exorbitant salaries and bonuses. The median reported salary, without bonuses, of a lobbyist in Washington DC is about $115 thousand. However, higher level lobbyists have reported salaries of up to $5 million, without bonuses.
The amount of former Congress members that become lobbyists has risen 1500% since 1974. In 1974, 3% of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. In 2013, 50% of retiring Senators and 42% of retiring House members became lobbyists. This exponential increase in lobbyists is jaw-dropping evidence that anything government does that benefits its people is either coincidental or is full of manipulative double-speak that actually harms them in the future. The line between Congress and Lobbyist is so thin that it is translucent. For most, Congress is nothing more than an entry-level lobbying position. Vote the way you are told for a couple of years and you could have a million dollar salary in no time. Our government is a carnival game where the sneering, greedy carney behind the counter always wins.