Dark money continues to pour into Missouri politics and government, to the public’s detriment.
This week, St. Louis public radio reported secret non-profit groups have given more than $500,000 to the committee working to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot.
Raise Up Missouri, the committee organizing the minimum wage petition drive, took $250,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund on Oct. 27. It took $142,500 from the Fairness Project. The National Employment Law Project kicked in $145,000 in mid-October.
NELP is a 501(c)(3) charity, prohibited from direct involvement in candidate elections. The Fairness Project and the Sixteen Thirty Fund are non-profit social welfare organizations, which are allowed a limited involvement in politics.
None of the groups is required to reveal its donors. That means we can’t know precisely who is behind the effort to put the minimum wage hike on Missouri’s ballot.
We support a higher minimum wage in Missouri. We support legislation allowing cities to set a higher minimum wage than rural areas of the state. And we support the right of any group to gather petitions.
But we cannot support the use of secret dark money contributions to further the interests of Raise Up Missouri, or any other group.
The treasurer of Raise Up told the St. Louis reporter that dark money is certain to come into the campaign from businesses opposed to the higher wage. He said he can’t be asked to campaign “with one hand behind your back.”
That argument is common, and wrong. The way to end dark money in politics isn’t to seek more dark money than your opponents. It’s to insist on sunlight, and full disclosure of individual donors to your effort.
This will be especially important in the year to come. Secret outside donations will undoubtedly clog the Missouri Senate race and the Kansas race for governor. If right-to-work ends up on the ballot, or Medicaid expansion, secret cash will escalate.
We believe Missourians and Kansans deserve to know who is trying to buy the government. That’s true whether the donations support an issue or candidate we’ve endorsed, or oppose them.
Several Missouri lawmakers have talked about legislation making donations to non-profits more transparent. We think the legislatures in both states such discuss that kind of openness when they reconvene in January.
And we think all sides should denounce the growing influence of dark money contributions, and advertising buys, in both states. Campaigns, like government, should be conducted in the sunshine.