News Briefs

Lawmakers raise concerns bill would limit oversight of dark money, affect labor unions

By: - March 30, 2021 4:02 pm

A view of the Missouri Senate chamber from the visitors gallery (photo courtesy of the Missouri Senate).

A discussion on giving electric cooperatives an additional year to vote remotely at their annual meetings after the governor’s emergency declaration expires turned into a long-ranging discussion Tuesday about dark money and Missouri’s labor union laws.

The provision addressing electric cooperatives was tacked onto Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield.

The bill restricts state agencies from imposing filing or reporting requirements on charitable organizations that go beyond what is required to be submitted to the Attorney General’s office under state law. State contracts, labor unions and investigations by the Attorney General into charitable organizations would be exempt.

“If we’re going to be asking for more information, it should come through us as an elected body,” Burlison said. “Not be done unilaterally by a state agency or municipality or county.”

Burlison cited examples of other states requiring charities to turn over forms that include confidential donor information, which may create a chilling effect for donors, he said.

“I think that Americans should have that right and not have their name dragged in the mud,” Burlison said of donating to nonprofits.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, questioned if this was an issue in Missouri and said he was concerned it would stymie transparency. Beck also alluded to allegations that former Gov. Eric Greitens’ stole a donor list from a veteran’s charity he founded, which was investigated by a House committee. Beck worried the bill would restrict other entities, like a city, from conducting investigations of their own into charities.

“Unless they went to the attorney general and asked him to investigate this, they would have no power to look into the activities of a so-called charitable organization,” Beck said.

Burlison said he didn’t believe the bill would restrict other entities’ abilities to conduct investigations.

But Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said she felt the bill was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” by adding the language addressing electric cooperatives to it. Schupp questioned if the provisions on charities would also serve to take away the legislature’s ability to expose dark money in politics. 

Schupp has a bill that would establish the “Eliminate Dark Money Act,” which would require 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations to disclose certain donors and expenditures.

“I feel like your bill does everything to continue to rob the public of that information,” Schupp said, “and… unfortunately, to keep dark money in politics.”

Meanwhile, Beck and Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, also raised issues with a provision of the bill that would exempt labor unions. Onder questioned if it would alter requirements passed in 2018 under House Bill 1413 — which is being weighed by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Burlison said the language was added at the request of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which was concerned that if labor organizations weren’t excluded, it may alter the state’s public labor laws.

“The department is in charge of administering that law. And if it’s going to affect our existing public sector labor law, I think that’s momentous and I think that that’s a problem that needs to be more thoroughly vetted,” Onder said.

An amendment was added to clarify that the bill would not prohibit the department from enforcing its requirements.

“I want nothing to do with changing what’s happening with labor,” Burlison said, stressing there would be another time to discuss labor issues.

Burlison’s substitute was adopted along party lines by a vote of 23-10 and granted initial approval Tuesday.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covered education, health care and the legislature with the Missouri Independent. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She also covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.