Guest Commentary

Nicole Galloway: Don’t let dark money buy influence in Jefferson City

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway

Missourians across the state often tell me they feel the system is rigged against them. I understand why. As another legislative session in Jefferson City came to a close, Gov. Mike Parson and the General Assembly failed to take any steps to root out dark money’s corrupting influence in our capitol.

Dark money groups are part of a system that favors career politicians, deep-pocketed lobbyists and extreme special interests. Because they are most often created by lobbyists (and funded by their clients) as 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, they are not required to disclose their donors.

We’ve seen the power of dark money play out in the halls of the state Capitol. As readers of The Kansas City Star, you may have followed the progress of a bill that would make it more difficult for victims of sexual assault on college campuses to seek justice as it quickly advanced through the legislature. Records obtained by The Star showed how a lobbyist — who had a personal interest in the measure — drafted the bill and strategized with lawmakers to push it through the legislative process. This same lobbyist also formed a dark money group to employ dozens of lobbyists to influence legislators.

Fortunately, public outcry, principled legislators and the media spotlight exposing this sordid insider deal led to the bill’s demise — for this year, at least.

Missourians deserve to know who is influencing the people making our laws, but there are forces that want to make sure government can be bought and sold in the shadows.

In May, the General Assembly approved House Bill 1088. This legislation shrinks the pool of competitive contracts available to Missouri businesses and individuals, reduces the number of bids required to be publicly advertised, and no longer requires state government to publicly advertise bids under six figures.

Perhaps most concerning, a provision that was slipped into the bill allows only a select group of potential contractors to bid for a project — a practice known as shortlisting — making it possible to use it at bureaucrats’ discretion with all state contracts. It is the ultimate insider advantage.

The governor and other politicians in Jefferson City should act on commonsense reforms to establish greater integrity in Missouri’s contracting process, instead of rigging the system to benefit a select few.

In each of the past two years, I worked with legislators to introduce the Transparency in Government Contracting Act. The provisions of this legislation would ensure that Missourians could know when and if their taxpayer dollars are being used in contracts awarded to dark money contributors.

Unfortunately for Missourians who want fairness out of their government, legislative leadership has little interest in upsetting the status quo of dark money that secretly influences how our tax dollars are being spent.

The General Assembly did not act on the bill, but the governor could. Parson could join me at any time in this effort to fight dark money by using his authority to put my legislation into law with an executive order.

When corruption happens, some of its costs can be hard to quantify: the distrust it creates in our public institutions, as well as the belief that the powerful get more powerful while the rest of us are left holding the bag. Missourians deserve an honest and efficient government. That can only be possible by ridding Missouri of the shadow of dark money and its corrupting influence on state government. I will never stop fighting it, exposing it and working to stop it.

Nicole Galloway is Missouri state auditor.