Pearce wants to end 'grand experiment' of limitless campaign contributions | St. Louis Public Radio

Pearce wants to end 'grand experiment' of limitless campaign contributions

Feb 16, 2016

Missouri lawmakers have spent the first part of the session angling to overhaul the state’s ethics regulations. But for at least one Republican lawmaker, one issue has been absent from the discussion: capping campaign contributions.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time in the legislature talking about some issues that really aren’t that important – that really is just kind of window dressing and that doesn’t kind of get to the heart of the matter,” said Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg. “We’re spending more time debating how much a lobbyist can spend on a cheeseburger meal for us, and yet the same lobbyist can cut a check for a hundred thousand dollars for our campaign.”

The Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee held a hearing on Pearce’s bill on Tuesday morning. It would place limits on how much a donor can give to candidates for state representative, state senator or statewide office. It would also require 501(c)(4) organizationss to disclose their expenditures.

When he was a member of the House in 2008, Pearce joined most of his GOP colleagues to eliminate contribution limits. But he’s expressed regret for that vote, noting on the Politically Speaking podcast it was one of the worst decisions of his legislative career.

(It’s worth noting that Pearce’s predecessor in the Senate – Attorney General Chris Koster – voted to repeal contributions limits in 2008 and hasn’t repudiated that decision.)  

“This grand experiment is not working,” Pearce said. “And when you see campaign receive contributions of such magnitude – million dollar donations – I think it pollutes the system. I think that we can do better. And so, I think after this experiment from 2008, we can say that we need to have some form of campaign contribution [limits].”

Tough sledding 

While a handful of Republicans have come out recently in support of limits, Pearce’s bill will faced a very tough road to becoming law. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe says the Senate isn't likely to approve campaign donation limits.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

That’s because most of his GOP colleagues don’t feel campaign contribution limits are effective. Many point to shortfalls in the old system, especially how large amount of money were chopped into smaller donations and then spread out to candidates through political action committees.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe said on Monday night that there wasn’t much appetite in the Senate to pass contribution limits.

“The more roadblocks you set up for campaign finance limits, the harder people work to figure out how to get somebody the money. And for the average person, it might not be as easy to trace,” Kehoe said. “Having the world like we live in now in Missouri, at least is 100 percent transparent. And anyone can see anything that anybody gets.”

In the meantime, the Senate is expected to take up ethics legislation later on Tuesday afternoon. Some of the bills that have made it through the House include curbs on lobbyist freebies and restrictions on when a lawmaker can become a lobbyist.