This op-ed originally appeared in the Kansas City Star on November 3, 2017:

A Clean Missouri is a Free Missouri
By Rob Schaaf

Liberty. This is the core of what I, as a conservative, believe in and strive to defend. Our liberty has been hard-won, paid for with the blood of our forebears, and it can so easily slip away. We must defend it, continually holding the line against those who would undermine it.

Today, we face a crisis of liberty, with many of our liberties being eroded — our freedom of speech, our freedom to maintain our privacy, our freedom from excessive government intervention in our lives. But what should worry us most is erosion of the freedom which underpins all others: the freedom of self-government. For if we lose the freedom to govern ourselves — if the political system itself becomes corrupted and responds less and less to the will of the people — then all our other liberties will be vulnerable, and the power of the state will be abused.

What I have seen, in 15 years as a member of the General Assembly, is increasing corruption in our state government, and increasing detachment from the will of the people. More and more, lobbyists and special interests get their way. They buy results with gifts and donations, but, ultimately, it is Missourians who pay the price, with healthcare costs spiraling out of control, taxpayer dollars wasted on corporate welfare, and powerful interests from out-of-state increasingly determining how Missourians are governed.

The legislature could pass reforms that would fix this, but they won’t. Legislators have had many opportunities, but most lawmakers don’t want to change the political game when they are winning it. So it’s up to the citizens to set things right, and there now is an historic opportunity to do so. It’s called Clean Missouri.

Clean Missouri is a ballot initiative supported by reformers from across the political spectrum. We are currently gathering signatures to place it on the ballot in November 2018. If passed, this constitutional amendment would solve many of the problems corrupting our state government.

For example, Clean Missouri would eliminate almost all lobbyist gifts in the General Assembly, banning any single gift worth more than $5. Members of the General Assembly, together with their staff and families, have already accepted over $1 million this year in gifts from lobbyists. Most lawmakers deny that these gifts affect them — the free meals, the free drinks, the free vacations. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that’s why lobbyists give the gifts: they know they’ll get something in return.

Also, Clean Missouri would require legislators and their staff to wait two years before becoming lobbyists after they leave the Capitol. That way, the people making our laws would no longer be looking to lobbyists as potential employers. To understand why this is important, consider this quote from the infamous ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff: “When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”

Clean Missouri would furthermore ensure that legislative district maps are drawn fairly after each census, rather than being drawn in such a way as to protect incumbents or to unjustly favor one party over the other. In other words, it would prohibit gerrymandering — what President Ronald Reagan called a “national scandal” and an “anti-democratic and un-American practice.” To do so, it would enforce an objective standard endorsed by numerous esteemed conservatives, among them Sens. John Danforth and Bob Dole and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kasich.

Clean Missouri contains other reforms as well. It would lower the contribution limits for legislative candidates. It would apply the Missouri Sunshine Law to legislative records and legislative meetings. And it would prohibit political fundraising on state property — for example, in the Missouri Capitol, where lawmakers should be focused on making laws, not asking lobbyists for money.

Clean Missouri is an expertly-drafted and well-vetted proposal. Among those who have vetted Clean Missouri are experts at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization run by Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He was appointed to that post by President George H.W. Bush and has been described by the American Bar Association Journal as “hands-down one of the top lawyers in the country on the delicate intersection of politics, law and money.” On the subject of Clean Missouri and his organization’s support for the measure, he has written, “These common sense solutions would help ensure Missouri’s government reflects the will of its citizens.”

As Reagan once said in a speech commemorating the anniversary of D-Day: “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.” Many have died for our democracy, and the least we can do to honor that is to preserve the democracy we have inherited. Right now, in Missouri, that means making sure Clean Missouri passes. We need to collect signatures to get it on the ballot. We need to defend against the misinformation campaign that will likely be waged against it. And we need to get out the vote next fall. During this final year I have in the General Assembly, I will be doing all I can to support Clean Missouri, and I hope you will consider joining me. You can learn more and sign up to help at cleanmissouri.org.