Follow the Money

Candidates spend more time raising funds than talking about issues. Prop B aims to change that.

Business interests don't think so. Opposition to Prop B is being led by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which claims that the proposed system would allow "radical fringe candidates to buy commercials airing their extreme views and would encourage more people to file just because they can get easy money." The Chamber, which did not return the RFT's phone calls, also stated in an August press release that the proposed system would set up a "multimillion-dollar slush fund for politicians" and that the best way to reform campaigns is through more open disclosure and "letting current reforms run their course."

"[Prop B proponents are] proposing that Missouri give politicians the power to direct millions of our tax dollars to finance their campaigns -- to spend the money any way they want," Chamber president and CEO Dan Mehan said. "Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse."

Voters in four other states have approved laws similar to Prop B. In Maine, the first state to actually implement such a law, the number of candidates running for office has indeed increased. But reformers there don't see that as a bad thing. This year, one-third of the candidates in Maine opted to join the publicly funded system, and as a result -- in part, at least -- the number of contested primaries increased by 40 percent. In addition, "clean candidates" are coming from both the Democratic and Republican ranks, and more third-party and female candidates are running than ever before.

State Sen. Susan Longley is a three-term Maine Democrat who decided to run as a clean candidate this year. In addition to ending her constant pursuit of money -- "schmoozing," as she puts it -- Longley says her acceptance of public funds has eased her conscience. "In a close vote, there are sometimes reasons on both sides to vote either way," she notes. "And when it's a vote where there are big donors on one side and not the other, I found that voting my conscience, well, it's harder to factor out the influence of money.

"This clears it up. It clears up my thinking so that I don't have to worry that what I'm doing is because I got a big contribution. It guarantees a more conscientious vote, a more pro-constituent vote. That's hugely liberating."


Working the plan. Working the lists. Monday-Friday. On Saturday, Farmer's staff meets to add up the numbers. On Sunday, they meet to work out the coming week's fundraising plan. The campaign has already spent more than $3,000 on phone bills and about $116,000 for postage and direct mailings to solicit more money. In September, it spent $110,000 to buy airtime but has yet to pay for the commercial's actual production.

Farmer doesn't blink when asked whether running a statewide political campaign is what she thought it would be:

"No."

Then she leans forward. "I had no idea it would be like this," she says. "It is all-consuming. It's an incredible grind, just constant, and I don't think there's any argument that it takes away from other aspects of the campaign."

Like meeting with constituents. Like delivering speeches. Like debating with her opponent about the best way to handle the state's money.

Farmer, who supports Prop B, leans back in her chair and sighs: "Raising money is what you do."

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