Kansas City Senator Silvey Voices Support For Campaign Limits

Jan 4, 2016

Sen. Ryan Silvey says campaign limits may help fix the negative perception the public has of lawmakers in Jefferson City.
Credit Missouri News Horizon / Flickr--CC

Count another Missouri Republican in favor of ethics reform in  Jefferson City. 

On the cusp of a new legislative session, Sen. Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) told KCUR's Steve Kraske on Up to Date Monday that he "wouldn't be opposed to new [campaign] limits." He joins a growing chorus of leaders within the Missouri GOP — traditionally in opposition to such measures — calling for reforms in the months since Jefferson City was rocked by a series of scandals during the 2015 session.

"We have a new [House] Speaker and a new [Senate] President Pro Tem in the middle of a legislative term for the first time ever. And the Speaker is there because of a scandal. So I think that does certainly put it on the front burner," Silvey said.  

He was referring to new House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Cape Girardeau) and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin), GOP leaders who have both voiced their desire to clean up Jefferson City.  Even stalwart conservatives like St. Joseph Sen. Rob Schaaf are calling for reform. 

Silvey indicated that such pleas may have more urgency with his colleagues in Jefferson City than they do with constituents back in his district. 

"This is not an issue they typically bring up when they talk to me, but that doesn't make it any less important. And it's certainly something we'll get back to addressing," he said. 

Missouri currently has some of the loosest campaign finance and lobbying regulations in the country. It is the only state with no campaign contribution caps, no limits to gifts lobbyists can give lawmakers, and no time restrictions for when lawmakers who leave office can then begin to lobby. 

Silvey, in fact, voted in 2008 to repeal campaign contribution limits. That's a vote that, at least in principle, he would modify now. 

"Obviously, when someone receives a million dollars or $500,000 from one person, that creates a perception in the electorate and doesn't help with the trust level in government." 

He noted that when he first ran for office more than a decade ago, candidates for the Missouri House were limited to $300 donations per individual contributor. 

But he says, even with limits, big-time donors will find a way to fund their candidates and causes. He said the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision makes it even more difficult to track where money comes from. That controversial ruling said prohibitions against corporations' and unions' political spending was unconstitutional, which opened an unprecedented wave of spending by so-called super PACs. 

"When there's not limits and someone gives a million dollars [to a candidate], at least you know where they got it from. As opposed to someone spending a million dollars through a group you can't see. There is a perception problem either way," he said. 

On an episode of Up to Date last month, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon also said an "election year is a good year to get stuff done" in terms of ethics reform. He said his administration would "press real hard" for reforms, though he has not yet articulated any specific policy proposals. 

The 2016 Missouri General Assembly convenes Wednesday. 

Kyle Palmer is the morning newscaster and a reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can find him on Twitter, @kcurkyle.