by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Now that the presidential primary season is closing and state candidates are finally able to file for election with the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, I am narrowing my list of expectations for candidates on the August and November ballots.
Here is my current list of what I want to see the candidates support before receiving my vote.
• Get rid of presidential signing statements. Originally a means for the chief executive to issue a pronouncement at the time of a bill’s signing into law, presidential signing statements have been recently used to nullify legislation duly passed by Congress and to create new presidential powers. Such use violates the Constitution and the separation of powers. The next Congress and president should end this practice once and for all time. Congressional and presidential candidates should be on record that they will support legislation to not only end this use of presidential signing statements but also to nullify the effect of signing statements issued by previous presidents. Without the crutch of presidential signing statements, future presidents will have to work with Congress to pass the legislation they want to sign.
• Re-establish the Office of Independent Counsel. While not perfect, the Office of Independent Counsel provided an independent check on administration abuses until Congress let the act that created it expire in 1999. Most Americans didn’t like the way Independent Counsel Ken Starr turned his power to investigate Arkansas land deals into an investigation of the president’s sex life, but they did recognize the value of having someone outside of the attorney general’s office available to investigate administration wrongdoing. Eight years later, having no independent counsel is proving worse than having a reckless one. Without the threat of prosecution, the White House has returned to the Nixon dictum that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Candidates for the White House and Congress need to propose a plan to bring back this important check on the abuse of presidential power.
• No more lobbying in the family. Many lawmakers have spouses, sons, daughters or other relatives who are paid to lobby the legislative body in which they serve. Each year Congress approves hundreds of millions of dollars of spending that goes directly to firms that have hired their relatives as lobbyists. This appearance of impropriety further diminishes people’s faith in the political system. At the state level, we have members of the General Assembly who are paid by political and lobbying firms when not working as representatives in the Capitol. Consider House Speaker Rod Jetton, who runs his own political consulting business. As House leader, he can steer money to a candidate from his party’s House campaign committee, and then the candidate can hire Jetton’s company to run his or her campaign. While Jetton asserts he is not abusing his power in this system, anyone can see that such a conflict of interest is inherently improper and will lead to abuse, either now or later. Candidates should agree to support legislation to ban officeholders from working for political and lobbying firms and require that lawmakers abstain from voting on any measures for which a relative was paid to lobby.
• Stop the contribution limit hypocrisy. In the battle over Missouri’s campaign finance system, many candidates have heaped scorn upon those lawmakers who have voted to allow unlimited campaign contributions. The argument for unlimited contributions is simple: Over-limit contributions already make their way into campaigns via a convoluted system of political committees that do nothing to limit contributions but do a lot to conceal the donors from the public. If a candidate criticizes an opponent or an opposition party for removing contribution limits, then that candidate should not be passing money from his or her big donors through political committees to avoid said contribution limits. The news media would serve us well by identifying which candidates are practicing contribution limit hypocrisy.