This Week’s Legislative Column from Senator Mike Cunningham

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Following the Money Trail

The General Assembly fell short of one of my main goals for this legislative session, which was the improvement of the ethical standards to which state lawmakers and elected officials are held. Even though three major ethics bills were passed this session, one improvement is yet to be made, in my opinion. In order to maintain a level of trust between the public and its government, proper ethical guidelines must be created and adhered to. One area in particular, which was not successfully addressed in the past session, was the issue of anonymous political donations and the ethical problems created by them.

The biggest issue with anonymous contributions is an obvious one – trust cannot be established when a campaign or official is receiving money from a secret source. While any inquiring citizen can look at the Missouri Ethics Commission’s webpage, at, and view what elected officials are receiving contributions and who the contributions are coming from, there is one loophole that lobbyists and donors can go through to remain anonymous. These outside anonymous donors usually work through a nonprofit organization or a political action committee, and can donate to campaigns without fear of the money being traced back to them.
This is the opposite of transparency between the government and its people, as the public and elected officials have a right to know the source of contributions. I have had issues with this same problem during my time in the Legislature, when I received a Missouri State University t-shirt which was reported as a donation on my ethics report. Even though I returned the shirt, and did not want or ask for it in the first place, it took a very long time for the report to be amended and the record of the gift removed. Even so, opponents of mine ran a television smear campaign against me, claiming that I have accepted clothing as a contribution from lobbyists. This is simply not true. Please check the last three years of my contribution record, and you will see that I have not accepted any donations that I have not returned or reimbursed.

Citizens should always be able to view where their senators, representatives and other officials are getting their money, especially during campaign years such as this one. This is an important topic for the public to be aware of with the campaign season now upon us, and I urge you all to visit the Ethics Commission’s website and keep yourself informed on the flow of money within your state government. Be suspicious of any out-of-state donations you find, and ask yourself the following question – why are Missouri politicians being given these anonymous outside contributions?

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.