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Political Rundown: Money — And Lack Of It — In Elections

(via Flickr/A Comment)

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day.

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day or perhaps just some pleasure to read. This week, we look at just how green politics has become — and we're not talking environmentally aware.

Money, money, money

The Club for Growth has plenty of money and is disciplined about spending it, as Politico's "Inside the Club of Growth's art of war" illustrates. Last election cycle, the group, described as the "the pre-eminent institution promoting Republican adherence to a free-market, free-trade, anti-regulation agenda," spent $17 million on carefully chosen and vetted candidates. So why has the club shaken up the GOP? One major reason: It's willing to pour money into GOP primaries against incumbent Republicans considered insufficiently conservative. And the club doesn't spend money to make a point; it spends to win. So its screening of candidates is rigorous. (It didn't contribute to U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, during his ill-fated senatorial campaign.)

In Missouri, Rex Sinquefield has been a big donor to the Missouri Club for Growth. Sinquefield recently gave the Missouri group $973,000; a few days later, the Missouri Club for Growth donated $100,000 to Catherine Hanaway’s campaign for governor. (Susan Hegger)

Public service ad?

The venerable Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star penned an article on Tuesday with a decidedly interesting premise. Helling responded to a U.S. Supreme Court case abolishing the aggregate donation limit for federal campaigns. His conclusion: Voters should ignore what the money actually buys — mailers, TV ads and social media presence. After all, he said, “the biggest threat to democracy may be unlimited campaign donations, but the best defense is an energetic, informed electorate making up its own mind.”

But while introspection over the cost of politics is a national pastime, there’s not a whole lot of thought or analysis about the rationale for that outlay. Some of the big money that candidates take in goes to political mailers, political consultants, travel expenses and pizza. Much more goes to pay TV stations, radio outlets and newspapers to run ads.

Want proof? When Gannett purchased Belo last year, the New York Times noted that “local stations in states with competitive elections have looked particularly valuable to investors as a result of the tremendous surge in political advertising every two years.” Those campaign ads decried on sites such as Politifact are a major source of revenue for some media companies.

Look, I’m not naïve. Media outlets need to have revenue to exist. Heck, my parents — who both graduated from journalism school with advertising degrees — taught me that from an early age.

But what would be the impact if media outlets didn’t charge anything to run political ads? Would elected officials spend most of their free time begging donors for money? Would state Senate candidates give themselves $275,000 to win a Republican primary? Would third-party Super PACs, which basically exist to run television ads, raise tons and tons of money?

It’s doubtful the cash dash would completely disappear. Some politicians raise money to move ahead in their party’s leadership. And even if it didn’t cost any money to air or publish the ads, campaigns still have to pay people to produce them. It remains to be seen whether some of the root causes behind the expense will receive as much study or attention. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Washing dishes in the poor house

Speaking of money, Mark Leibovich had an interesting column in the New York Times about how wealthy candidates try not to seem rich when running for office. It's hard for millionaires and billionaires to come across as underdogs or to claim that they've struggled to make a decent life just like Joe and Jane Average Voter they hope to represent. So instead they climb up the family tree to find the parent or grandparent who came over on a boat, worked long hours in a factory or washed dishes in a diner. Points if the candidate actually washed a dirty plate, although we won't count ex-Gov. Rod Blagovich's dish-washing stint in prison.

"They especially love tales of dishwashing. Sen. Ted Cruz could finance his own presidential campaign if he had a penny for every time he mentioned his penniless father who 'washed dishes for 50 cents an hour' after fleeing Cuba for Texas. Hillary Clinton checked the dishwashing box during a summer stint, in 1969, working in an Alaskan lodge. Leon Panetta washed dishes in his father’s restaurant, John Boehner (the second-youngest of 12 kids!) in his father’s bar, and Ronald Reagan in the girls’ dormitory at Eureka College in Illinois."

Perhaps the only thing better than washing dishes is being a hard-working farmer. If so, state Sen. Joni Ernst, a GOP candidate hoping to replace the retiring GOP incumbent, has the best line ever: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” she says in an ad. “So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” That should scare just about anyone. (Susan Hegger)

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/04/01/4929410/sinquefield-helps-hanaways-2016.html#storylink=cpy
The death penalty debated

St. Louis Public Radio has been examining Missouri's execution protocol in a series of investigative reports. But the debate over the legitimacy, viability and secrecy of the death penalty has hardly been confined to Missouri. Court cases in Oklahoma and Texas raise questions about the lethal drugs used while New Hampshire and Delaware are states considering outright abolition. As one of its Room for Debate topics, the New York Times looks at "what it means if the death penalty is dying." Six different people with six different points of view weigh in on the issue. At its heart is a conundrum that's hard to resolve: Given the racial disparities of who is executed and a potentially shrinking number of states willing to execute inmates, does the death penalty become inherently "cruel and unusual" and therefore unconstitutional? (Susan Hegger)

Road warriors

Missouri lawmakers aren’t the only ones battling over how to fund transportation.  Legislators in other states, and even in Canada, are working on bills to improve their transportation systems.  First, north of the border, the Canadian Parliament is considering legislation to improve rail service for western Canada’s grain industry, but the Canadian National Railway opposes the bill, saying in part that it would lead to “unfair poaching by U.S. railways," according to an article is from Brian Cross of "The Western Producer," an agricultural publication for farmers and ranchers in western Canada.

Back on this side of the 49th parallel, Amanda Bayhi of the Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Better Roads magazine published an article that details how Tennessee and New Hampshire are handling the ever-decreasing supply of federal highway dollars.

Meanwhile, the online publication FleetOwner.com, which caters to the commercial trucking industry, published an article by senior editor and blogger Sean Kilcarr that features an interview with Ray LaHood, former secretary of  Transportation Secretary. LaHood said that a long-term transportation funding solution is “not a high priority” for Congress as mid-term elections approach.

Finally, the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times published an editorial praising the passage of a transportation bill by the Pennsylvania legislature last fall. (Marshall Griffin)

Picture this

Texas lawmakers soon may have to turn over emails that shed light on the motives for enacting more restrictive voter ID laws. Republicans have favored stringent policies to ensure the trustworthiness of elections. But Democrats say that poor and minority voters (and likely Democratic voters) are the ones most likely to be affected. As the Huffington Post reports, a federal judge has ordered the emails be turned over, as the state legislators' intent is important to the constitutionality of the law.

Missouri could be another state to enact more restrictive voter ID policies. Right now, the Show-Me state allows voters to use a variety of documents, including utility bills or bank statements, as proof of residence. New proposals would limit the acceptable forms of identification to some — but not all — photo IDs. (Student photo IDs, for example, would not be allowed to be used.)

Photo IDs were a contentious issue in the Missouri secretary of state's race in 2012. Democrat Jason Kander faced Republican Shane Schoeller, who campaigned on photo ID requirements. In a close race, Kander won. 

His office points out that, although photo IDs are still being pushed, the House has slashed funding to the secretary of state's election integrity unit. (Chris McDaniel)

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.