The battle over right to work in Missouri has shaped up as a prime example of why the axiom “follow the money” remains sage advice. And it clearly illustrates how the political cards are stacked against the populace.
When lawmakers in Jefferson City want to undercut the will of voters, there are any number of ways to cover their tracks, including funneling payments to political insiders without having to disclose where the funds came from.
Such are the dangers of dark money, bolstered by legislators’ unwillingness to pass reforms that would serve the people who elected them.
The fingerprints of Gov. Eric Greitens are all over this one.
Missouri lawmakers passed, and Greitens signed, a right-to-work bill last year. Right-to-work states allow employees at unionized work sites to opt out of paying unions for the cost to be represented. Such laws undercut the strength of unions by sapping their collective bargaining powers and shrinking membership.
But the unions fought back, getting a measure that would repeal the law onto the November ballot. Enough Missourians opposed the law and spoke up, supporting a petition drive that collected more than 310,000 signatures.
Backers of the right-to-work law then pretended to get to work.
The stated goal of the political action committee, Freedom to Work, was to get a right-to-work amendment onto the ballot. But it never happened, despite plenty of funds fueling the effort.
A number of Greitens’ political allies were paid handsomely to work on the failed petition drive. Although Freedom to Work has spent more than $750,000 on the campaign since January, not enough signatures were gathered to place a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot later this year.
Meanwhile, efforts to put a number of other issues on the ballot were successful — even without shelling out that kind of cash to workers.
Last week, lawmakers resorted to Plan B: If actual voters won’t sign on to a right-to-work measure, then legislators can ram through their own proposal. There was no time to waste. The legislative session ends at 6 p. m. Friday.
In the span of a few hours Wednesday evening, two Missouri House committees gave their approval to put a right-to-work law in the state’s constitution. The bill received initial approval Friday.
So swiftly did the measure move forward, that it shocked the sponsor, Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican from Harrisonville. He assumed the bill would die from a lack of interest.
But lawmakers weren’t done yet. Also on Friday, a Senate bill to shift the union-backed referendum from November to the August ballot received approval.
It should be noted that Greitens’ nonprofit, A New Missouri Inc., was a driving force behind the right-to-work push and a big source of the money that went to Freedom to Work.
So the governor’s backers gave to the nonprofit, then saw the money transferred to Greitens’ allies in the form of payments for work on the unsuccessful right-to-work amendment.
Got that? Lots of money changed hands among friends of the governor, but they didn’t manage to gather the needed signatures.
Here is where the money trail goes dark. A New Missouri does not have to report where its funds come from, yet it donated $1.2 million in January to Freedom to Work. On Wednesday, A New Missouri gave another $500,000.
And some of the players receiving payments on the right-to-work campaign are also the same people that Greitens surely wants to keep in his corner as he goes to trial this week on a felony invasion of privacy charge and then faces down the possibility of impeachment.
The whole episode highlights how freely dark money flows across Missouri’s political landscape and how many built-in advantages lawmakers and elected officials have.
But in the battle over dueling right-to-work meaures in Missouri, the good news is that voters still will have the final say.