Commentary: Improving our political system

The Kansas City StarNovember 30, 2012 

Before our memories of the 2012 elections fade to black, here’s what needs to happen to improve our political system:

• Voter engagement. Thanks for casting a ballot this month. But you need to remain engaged. If you have ideas about the fiscal cliff — should the rich be taxed at a higher rate or not? — get off the couch and write a quick note to your member of Congress.

It’s a participation game, folks.

• Reform the Super PACs. They’re the political action committees that raise unlimited contributions from the super rich and then spend them on federal elections without every disclosing their donors.

The fear is that the rich will control our politics.

They are, one observer said, “an unmitigated disaster.”

• Implement advance voting. How ridiculous were those 11/2-hour waits to vote this month in Missouri? There’s an answer to that silliness, and it’s called advance voting prior to Election Day.

Kansas has it. And Missouri leaders, including incoming secretary of state Jason Kander, have called for it too, only to have the General Assembly shoot it down.

• Kansas needs a crackdown of its own. Too many organizations can sponsor big ad campaigns blasting candidates they dislike but then hide the identities of their donors. Groups, such as the National Rifle Association, can do that as long as they don’t specifically advocate voting for or against particular candidates.

That level of anonymity casts a pall over a state with a generally upright reputation.

• Missouri needs a new ethics law to replace the one the courts threw out in February on a technicality. Without the law, state government continues to operate under the impression that it’s for sale.

The law that was tossed out banned the shuffling of funds among political committees that turned Missouri into the money laundering capital of the political world. It also allowed the Missouri Ethics Commission to launch its own investigations without having to wait for a formal complaint.

But all that’s gone now.

The overturned law didn’t deal with donation limits. Missouri is the only state that permits unlimited donations from citizens and has no limits on what lobbyists can give to lawmakers — a scary combo.

• Both Kansas and Missouri need to turn over their once-a-decade redistricting tasks to independent commissions — like the one in Iowa — that will make more concerted efforts to draw fair lines.

Now the lines are drawn with one aim: protecting incumbents. That leads to members of Congress who tend to hail from the fringes of American politics because their only worry is a primary challenge from the left or right.

We know how to run aboveboard political systems. We just need to push our right honorables to get it done.

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