Alderwoman Krewson Will Make Her Case Today for Shining a Light on Dark Money

Categories: Politics
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Alderwoman Lyda Krewson of the Twenty-Eighth Ward wants greater transparency in city campaign finance
In Missouri, anybody can donate as much as they want to a political campaign, as long as they disclose who they are with the state Ethics Commission.

Well, anybody except 501(c)(4) "social welfare" corporations. These non-profits are not required by any law to reveal where they get their cash, but can still contribute without limit.

Thus, if you wish to hide your support for a candidate or cause, all you need do is find a 501(c)(4) -- or launch your own! -- and the non-profit can donate for you. If that sounds a bit like campaign finance money-laundering, it basically is.

Alderwoman Lyda Krewson of the Twenty-Eighth Ward is not saying this shady practice has infected elections in the City of St. Louis. But she does want to prevent it.

To that end, she's proposed Board Bill 242, which would require a 501(c)(4) to disclose all its previous-year donors within 48 hours of making a contribution of $500 or more to big city races and ballot issues. Her bill is getting a hearing today at 1:30 in City Hall.

Krewson told Daily RFT by phone yesterday that there was no one specific incident that prompted her to filed this bill. She did, however, point to a recent situation brought to the attention of the Missouri Ethics Commission.

In July, two 501(c)(4) non-profits were formed in Missouri and -- within a matter of days --  contributed a total of $575,000 to political action committees, which then used the money to run attack ads in races for state senate and lieutenant governor.

A complaint was filed, but the state ethics commission dismissed it.

"I'm not a lawyer," Krewson says, "but based on that case, it looks like Missouri law doesn't require disclosure [for these groups]. So my thought was, what can we do about it in the city?"

Krewson says her colleagues seem warm to the idea. 

"The reactions I've heard have been positive," she says. "But that doesn't mean I've heard from everybody."

But still, we asked her, wouldn't it look bad, politically speaking, to oppose this measure?

"You would think so," she says. "But the state legislators haven't moved to pass this, so they must be against it. And Congress hasn't moved to change it."

She concludes: "It's a little bill -- a little step in right direction of transparency and good government. Sometimes things like this start at the local level. A lot of times they do, actually."
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