Kevin McDermott at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a piece earlier this month (Sunday, July 6) about the campaign fund maintained by former House Speaker Steven Tilley and how he’s using it–not to run for office but to help others who, in turn, spend similar amounts on his consulting services.
McDermott has spent several hours going through campaign spending reports in following the money. It does not appear that any laws have been broken. But it is a good picture of the grown-up world of today’s Missouri politics.
You might remember that Tilley quit the Speakership in 2012 before his term was completed so he could immediately become a lobbyist. Some had thought that he would run for statewide office and his sudden resignation caught them off guard.
He had a big campaign fund but state law does not let him use that money in his new lobbying business or use it personally. It was Representative Fred Williams of St. Louis who long ago uttered a now legendary question one day during floor debate on a bill whose significance escapes the memory of this aging correspondent: “I know what it say but what do it do?” McDermott has explored what the state’s campaign finance law allows Tilley to “do.”
McDermott recounts that when Tilley left office, he reorganized his campaign committee to it could continue to take in money and make expenditures, claiming he would be a statewide candidate this year. But, son of a gun, he didn’t file for office this year. So he has reorganized his campaign fund, saying he’s going to be a statewide candidate in 2016. And if nothing interests him in ’16 he can keep the campaign fund going by saying he’s going to run in 2018. He’s only 43 years old. He could be “going to run” for a long time. The campaign fund is now sitting at $875,000. And it can still take contributions.
What the law “do” is let Tilley make contributions to other candidates or to political parties. And this is where things get a little more interesting. Tilley has donated $125,000 to other candidates. Legislators he has donated to have paid him $130,000 for consulting. That’s money he can spend personally.
McDermott recounts the $10,000 Tilley donated to the campaign of Senator Mike Parson who used Tilley’s consulting company in his campaign. And the bill for those services came to, just coincidentally we are sure, $10,000.
Another beneficiary of campaign donations is House Majority Floor Leader and Speaker-designate John Diehl, who got $12,000 from the Tilley campaign fund and paid the Tilley consulting company $8,000. Conflict of interest? No, says Diehl, who told McDermott that Tilley has made donations “to lots of people”
Words such as “pipeline” or “funnel” or even “launder” might come to mind as one considers how this system works. We’re not saying those words are appropriate but we cannot guess what you might think as McDermott recounts how the Tilley “campaign fund” works.
McDermott reports Tilley has quit doing consulting work for legislators this year. But the lobbying business is going well. Remember when the Tesla electric car company was facing some late-session unfriendly legislation? Tesla hired Tilley to lobby for it. Campaign finance reports show $10,000 showed up from Tilley in the House Republican Campaign Committee’s account and two days later Diehl announced the Tesla legislation was dead. Diehl and the House campaign group say there’s n connection.
We’ve heard lawmakers from both parties prattle on and on for several years ago changing laws so that members of the legislature could not go into the lobbying business immediately after leaving office. But that’s all it is: talk. We’ve listened to similar prattling about finding a way to limit big money in political campaigns.
What might be needed is somebody, maybe a former legislator who had accumulated a lot of money by talking about running for a statewide office, who would make contributions to various campaign funds of people who are interested in or who might become interested in campaign and lobbyist reform. And they could hire a consultant–someone who knows how the system works from the inside, perhaps–to lead a successful effort to reform the system.
But who would want to take food out of their own mouth by doing that?
Kevin McDermott’s article is useful not because it makes accusations that there is wrongdoing—it does not; it fact it is careful to explain how government really operates within the laws that the participants in these activities write or don’t write. This is a glimpse behind the curtain. This is not Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m just a bill sitting on Capitol Hill.”
You can read McDermott’s entire article at:
Public Administration Review’s May/June edition had an article titled, “The impact of Public Officials’ Corruption on the Size and Allocation of U. S. State Spending.” The author hypothesizes that “public officials’ corruption should cause state spending to be artificially elevated, and to “distort states’ public resource allocations in favor of higher-potential ‘bribe-generating’ spending and items directly beneficial to public officials such as capital, construction, highways, borrowing, and total salaries and wages.” The report is on the internet if you want to look it up.
Missouri is 35th according to the index the researchers developed for measuring corruption. Unfortunately, they did not include campaign donations or campaign committees without a campaign to run in their calculations. Missouri has no limits on them and those observers who think big money is increasingly pervasive in legislative decisions might want to see a study that makes that circumstance part of the index.