Thoughts from Last Night’s Ethics Forum

The Committee for County Progress hosted an Ethics Forum last night. Micheal Mahoney served as moderator, with panelists Rep. Paul Levota, Rep. Jason Kander, and David Levinthal, the Communications Director for the Center for Responsive Politics in DC. The panel was great, the discussion was informative, and the crowd was a who’s who of up-and-coming politicos. I don’t have time to do one of my typically verbose descriptions of the event, but here are a few observations:

Paul Levota is funny. At one point, Mahoney was pressing Levota on the unlikelihood that the Missouri Senate will accept contribution limits. Mahoney pointed out that little will be accomplished by sticking to the issue accept to use it as a campaign weapon. “That’s the plan,” Levota deadpanned.

Transparency is crucial. One of the big problems in Missouri is that donors hide behind committees. When checks get funneled from “Missourians for Good Things” to “Missourians for Awesome Things” and then to “Missourians for Nice Things” and then finally to the candidate, it’s awfully hard to track the dollars back to the special interest pulling the strings.

Jason Kander is funny, too.
Commenting on a fellow representative’s $100,000 donor, Kander pointed out that the donor probably gets his calls returned faster than the representative’s children. (Maybe that isn’t funny.)

The Center for Responsive Politics is a tremendous resource. Levinthal was well-informed, completely balanced and thoughtful. The Center is non-partisan, and his straight-arrow style made clear that he is interested in good government, period.

The candidates are out to see and be seen. The crowd was peppered with candidates in up-coming races. I hate to mention names, because I don’t want to neglect anyone, but Crispin Rea was a welcome presence, along with his campaign treasurer Theresa Garza Ruiz. I finally met Jeremy Ploeger for the 51st district, and Geoff Gerling, candidate for the 46th District.

Where were the County Legislators? The only County Legislator in attendance was the always-wonderful Theresa Garza Ruiz. This came as a bit of a shock, given that it was a forum on Ethics sponsored by the Committee for COUNTY Progress. After the legislature’s embarrassing and anti-ethical attempt to avoid ethical home rule, it seems that more of them would have an interest in the topic. Fortunately, Henry Rizzo’s opposing candidate and likely replacement, Crystal Williams, was present.

Speaking of Theresa Garza Ruiz . . . I had a brief opportunity to speak with her about her sudden removal as Chair of the Justice & Law Enforcement committee. Despite her degree and experience in law enforcement, she was unceremoniously dumped from the committee, and the “dumper”, Henry Rizzo, didn’t even talk with her about it first, before awarding the committee Chair to a convicted felon. Theresa didn’t have much to offer by way of explanation of this baffling move, other than to point out that the claim that it’s part of a normal rotation of chairs is demonstrably false.

Micheal Mahoney knows his stuff. Mahoney did a great job of moderating the event, and the high point came when he ran factual rings around a loud audience member who was claiming that money is the be-all and end-all of politics. Mahoney pointed to the Carnahan/Talent race, and when the blustery but ill-informed talker pushed on, he pointed out that the Mayor was also not the leading fundraiser in his election. It was an amusing and deft evisceration of an anti-Funkhouser activist who seemed to be substituting volume for accuracy.

It’s wonderful that so many people care about ethics in Missouri.
On a Thursday evening, a healthy crowd of people came out to a mid-town law office to participate in a high-level forum on the topic of dollars and politics. That’s a pretty impressive level of interest, and the CCP deserves credit for putting on the forum.

13 Responses to “Thoughts from Last Night’s Ethics Forum”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It's tough to moderate when an audience member starts acting like a jerk. You forgot to mention that this same audience member claimed that corporations will be getting voting rights soon, with votes apportioned by their profitability. Mahoney did what he could, but security should have removed the ranting lunatic.

  2. Eric Rogers says:

    Anyone else see the irony in holding an ethics forum at the law firm of Lathrop, Gage, and Blunt??

  3. les says:

    You forgot to mention that this same audience member claimed that corporations will be getting voting rights soon, with votes apportioned by their profitability.

    Great, now I'll have real nightmares. Thanks.

  4. Dan says:

    Eric – while the cynical point you make is amusing, I have to stand up for my friends at L&G (my brother among them).

    First off, I don't think Amy Blunt even works there anymore (though I'm not certain of their roster.

    More relevantly, you could just as easily call the firm Lathrop, Gage and Rhyne, for the firm includes Dick Rhyne, a solid democrat and the chair of the non-Republican CCP. You could also call it Lathrop Gage and Fridkin, for it also includes Harold Fridkin, one of the best Democrats I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. On the other hand, you could call it Lathrop Gage and Hearne, for Thor Hearne is one of their lawyer, and one of the most outspoken vote-riggers of the Republican side.

    I'm not going to go through the roster and list all the affiliations, but I want to point out that Lathrop, just like every other large firm in town, has lots of good people involved on both sides of the political aisle.

  5. The Kanders Are Republican says:

    Did Kander talk about how his state rep campaign was launched with a 40K check from his uncle, with the promise of more for the asking? I guess ethics rules are for poor families?

    And I guess it should be noted that Kander's wife chose to work for the Republican firm of Lathrop and Gage when she thought she had what it takes to be a lawyer.

  6. Dan says:

    Kanders are Republicans -

    Wow, you are either seriously misinformed, or a terrible liar. You realize, don't you, that the generous donation made to Jason's campaign by his uncle was returned? He followed all ethical rules and ran a clean campaign. I know; I watched it quite closely.

    As for calling Lathrop & Gage a Republican firm, you simply don't know what you're talking about. Read my reply to Eric for a little more background on that.

    Finally, congratulations on your ability to anonymously attack Jason's spouse. I can promise you that she has more integrity, intelligence and legal ability than you do.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Were any City Council members there?

  8. Dan says:

    I don't believe that there were any city council members there.

  9. Follow the Money says:

    Dan he Kander only removed the 40K from his campaign account after the Missouri Supreme Court said that candidates had to follow the contribution limits. We really have no idea where the money went, we just know it was removed from Kander's campaign account.

  10. Dan says:

    Follow -

    You're either trying to mislead people, or you have a terrible memory. He returned the money, and refused to refunnel it through committees. Go read http://www.gonemild.com/2007/10/kander-returns-excess-contributions.html, and http://www.gonemild.com/2008/06/kander-shows-leadership-on-campaign.html.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Follow the Money -

    Kander won – by a lot. Now get over it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Dan just quoting yourself to support your own position is pretty lame.

    We have no idea where that 40K ended up.

  13. Dan says:

    Anonymous – you're being ridiculous. He returned the money to his uncle. That's the truth, and the fact that you prefer to indulge in some bizarre fantasy that he did something else with the funds, without any evidence whatsoever other than a vivid imagination, suggests you've lost touch with reality.

    Grow up, stop stewing in your hatred, and move on with your life. Really, there's more to life than imagining what might maybe could possibly have almost happened in a race that was won with hard work and solid campaigning.

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