St. Louis Needs Campaign Contribution Limits

With the demise of campaign contribution limits in Missouri law in 2008, contribution limits in local elections also disappeared. Eight years later nothing has changed, and unlimited contributions continue to be allowed in local elections in St. Louis. Despite the fact that large donors distort local elections, and can easily drown out the voices of regular voters, St. Louis currently stands virtually alone among cities by not capping what an individual or corporation can contribute.

The result is an “anything goes” scenario, where a single donor, or handful of donors, can potentially tilt the playing field in any election. Many St. Louisans are surprised to learn there are no limits to how much can be contributed to a candidate in a local election. While running a campaign takes money, St. Louis residents want common sense limits that encourage candidates to rely on a broad base of support, not a single donor.

There is no question that huge donations to politicians erode the confidence of residents that local government is looking out for their best interests, and alienate regular people from participating in local elections.

Kansas City was quick to enact contribution limits in 2010 after state level limits were repealed, and it’s worked. Today’s proposal allows candidates to raise sufficient money to run a campaign, while also enacting reasonable, common sense limits. The proposed limits are $10,000 per election cycle for all city office holders.

Additional legislation would remove political lobbyists from the floor of the Board of Aldermen chambers during meetings. Regardless of how the custom of allowing lobbyists such close proximity to aldermen during meetings developed, it’s time to change it. Other bodies, like the Missouri House and Senate, and the St. Louis County Council, keep lobbyists away from the desks of members.

It’s time for St. Louis to follow suit. Our customs are reflections of our institutional values. Today, our custom keeps lobbyists closest to members of the Board of Aldermen, while regular voters watch from a gallery. Can this policy be defended? While every voice is important in local government, and lobbyists certainly have a role in representing groups, there’s no reason paid lobbyists should be front and center at every meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

Taken together, these measures will help build confidence in local government.