When candidates for the Missouri House District 60 seat were asked about ethics in Missouri politics, the conversations turned to Amendment 1 — Clean Missouri, initiative that will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Republican Dave Griffith and Democrat Sara Michael are running for the seat state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, currently holds. Because of term limits, Barnes is prevented from running for re-election.
The initiative would change a number of legislative operations, Michael said.
Among the changes are limitations to the contributions that can be made to a state Senate candidate — which would be $2,500 (down from the current limit of $2,600) — and to a House candidate — which would be $2,000 (down from $2,500).
"I believe in Clean Missouri. If government is about the people, why wouldn't you support Clean Missouri?" Michael asked.
The Missouri Ethics Commission already does a wonderful job of monitoring candidates' finances, Griffith said. The commission's website is very user-friendly, and it does a good job of providing advice for candidates who are filling out campaign reports.
"They'll look at it and make sure you're dotting all your I's and crossing all your T's. I really doubt there is a candidate out there trying to usurp the system," Griffith said.
The problem isn't necessarily the candidates, Michael said. Take the case of David Humphreys, the Joplin businessman whose family has donated millions to conservative causes. He recently donated $1 million to the Republican Campaign Committee.
"Why should one person with unlimited funds get heard over the 35,000 constituents I would represent?" Michael said. "The fact that unlimited funds can be used to drown a strong voice for the individual constituents within the district is just wrong."
The state has made significant reforms in ethics over the past few years, Griffith said. It is trying to hold legislators accountable for the money they raise.
"The system is not broken. It is working well," he said. "If you get a donation of more than $5,000, you have to report it within 48 hours."
Candidates are accountable for how they spend their money, he added.
Other things Clean Missouri would do include limiting gifts lawmakers may accept from lobbyists, preventing lawmakers or staff from becoming lobbyists for two years, prohibiting fundraising on state property, requiring legislative records to be open to the public and changing the process by which state districts are drawn.
On the surface, Clean Missouri sounds like a good idea for the state, Griffith said. But its redistricting plan would divide minority populations, particularly in Kansas City and St. Louis, he said.
"The way the system is set up now, it is trying to be equitable to all voters," Griffith said.
Redistricting needs to be non-partisan, unbiased and scientific to be certain districts' demographics are accurately represented, Michael said.
"(Limiting donations is) all about access to government," she said. "Redistricting and making sure minority populations are represented also goes to access to government."
Griffith said he wants voters to do what's best for the state.
"I hope all voters will do some research and look at all aspects of what that bill is about and how it would affect them," Griffith said. "Once they look at it, I hope they will vote 'no.'"
House District 60 is made up of most of Jefferson City, with the exception of the southeastern portion.