JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Sen. Rob Schaaf has easily been the most outspoken member of the Senate when it comes to criticism of Governor Eric Greitens and his tactics, having been the target of an online social media attack campaign during the last legislative session, but the Republican senator from Buchanan County is looking to take things one step further.
“Recent events illustrate clearly that secrecy can breed corruption. It can embolden one to cheat on his wife, or commit an assault, or sell out the people of Missouri to high-paying special interests and expect to get away with it,” Schaaf told his colleagues.
At the beginning of the 2018 legislative session, Sen. Schaaf announced to his colleagues on the Senate floor that he had not filed a single piece of legislation, meaning that his work this year would be more focused on the bills presented by his colleagues.
But after nearly two months of session, Schaaf has revealed his first piece of legislation.
Speaking before his fellow senators on Tuesday morning, Schaaf presented his bill, SB 1041, which deals with communications from elected officials.
“The bill I’m introducing today would address the problem of secrecy in campaign finance,” Schaaf stated. “This bill introduces sorely needed disclosure requirements for nonprofit groups closely affiliated with elected officials in our state. The legislation is closely tailored to reach only those groups.”
Schaaf said that he had the bill drafted by “some of the best legal minds in the country,” including experts at the Campaign Legal Center, as well as Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
“You can rest assured that this bill is carefully drafted and ready for passage.”
Under the bill, a nonprofit affiliated with an elected official spends $10,000 or more annually on public communications featuring the elected official, then the nonprofit has to file a report once a year with the ethics commission. In that report, they would be required to disclose, among other information, its affiliation with the elected official, donors of $5,000 or more, and payments made for public communications featuring that elected official.
Schaaf spoke about how some elected officials use nonprofits to push forward their agendas, as well as pay for communications and advertising, in some instances, using them to attack opponents through such advertising.
“These same nonprofits are legally permitted to raise unlimited money from virtually any source, including corporations and special interests, many of whom are seeking tangible benefits from elected officials in our state,” Schaaf said.
He pointed to Greitens’ A New Missouri as a prime example of such a nonprofit.
Schaaf stated that while seeking election, Greitens had spoken about the importance of transparency in the funding of campaigns.
“He said in one interview: ‘What I’ve found is that the most important thing is that there is transparency around the money,’” Schaaf quoted the Governor from an interview.
He noted that Greitens had told reporters how proud they were to be transparent and that they could “see every one of our donors because we are proud of our donors, and we are proud of our campaign that we are running.”
“But Greitens has turned his back on transparency, and now uses dark money to the full extent allowed by law. The nonprofit, A New Missouri, is one of the principle tools he uses to do this.
Schaaf noted that the nonprofit was staffed by some of his closest associates, including his campaign manager, Austin Chambers, his campaign’s finance director, and his sister-in-law.
“Importantly, this bill does not limit the amount of money that a nonprofit organization can raise, nor does it restrict an elected official’s ability to become involved with nonprofit organizations doing work in their communities,” Schaaf said. “This bill only requires that, once a year, certain nonprofit organizations that are affiliated with elected state officials and spending significant sums on public communications featuring such officials file a report with the Missouri Ethics Commission.”
“This is the Show-Me State, and the people are demanding to be shown who is funding the careers of their politicians,” he said. “If we are to regain their trust, we must allow them to see transparently who is pulling the levers of power in Jefferson City.”
UPDATE: The next day, Schaaf filed a second bill, which he said would work in conjunction with the first to address Missouri’s issue of secrecy in political spending.
“Yesterday I introduced a disclosure bill relating to organizations affiliated with elected officials. Today I am introducing a second disclosure bill, this one relating to organizations that make independent political expenditures,” he said. “Together, these two bills address the two major types of dark money corrupting Missouri politics today. They are the last two bills I will ever introduce, and they are also the most important.”
According to Schaaf, the bill would “empower Missouri voters by giving them information about who is funding campaign advertising that is made independently of candidates, PACs, and political parties.”
“Specifically, the bill introduces a new requirement for non-committee groups making independent campaign expenditure to disclose big donors — those contributing at least $1,000 — to the public.
“In recognition of the fact that many non-committee groups raise money for a variety of purposes, the bill permits non-committee groups wishing to engage in campaign spending to create special ‘campaign-related accounts’ for making their campaign expenditures. Groups with ‘campaign-related accounts’ would only have to disclose donors who directly gave to the special account.
“The bill also expands the types of election-related communications that must be reported during the immediate days before an election. This expansion will help to ensure that non-committee groups cannot continue to ‘game’ disclosure requirements by running candidate-oriented advertisements that masquerade as issue advertising but are, in fact, intended to affect voters’ decisions at the polls.
“In sum, this bill gives the people of Missouri increased information to help them make important decisions on Election Day and helps shine a light on the dark money being spent in our elections.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.