Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL215.PRB - Making Rain
One of the aspects of the legislative process that regularly surprises my journalism students is that bills are not always introduced to change law.
Sometimes a bill is introduced to be a "rain maker" to generate a rain of campaign contributions or support from special interests.
A demonstration of that arose last year when Senate Republicans shut off a Democratic filibuster to pass "Right to Work" legislation to prohibit requiring an employee to join a union or pay union fees.
I got a remarkably candid answer when I asked a legislative leader why there was such an effort when Republicans clearly lacked the votes to override the governor's veto.
The objective, it was suggested, was not to get a bill into law. It was a clear message that one motivation was to satisfy demands of some business interests backing the bill.
I should not have been surprised by the candor. Rain makers are such an obvious component of the legislative session that there's no effort to keep them secret.
Many of these rain makers are easy to spot. Look for bills for which the sponsor never sought a committee hearing. Look for bills filed so late in the session that there is almost no chance of passage.
Look for a bill that does not have a realistic chance of becoming law -- like Right to Work.
Don't limit your search for these rain makers to measures that attract campaign contributions.
Sometimes, the rain being sought can be Missouri voters.
That might have been a factor in the recent Senate vote on the proposal to allow a person or business to refuse to provide services for same-marriages.
Because it's a constitutional amendment, the joint resolution would require statewide voter approval to take effect.
Any such vote likely would boost the turn out of Republican voters for the November elections.
It would not be the first time that the issue of gay marriage was used to generate votes.
In 2004, Republican legislators put on the ballot a constitutional amendment to prohibit government recognition of gay marriages.
More than one Republican told me of the hopes that the proposal would bring more Republicans to the polls who then would also vote for Republican candidates.
The strategy almost worked. It did significantly boost turnout at the polls in Republican areas of the state.
But just like seeding a cloud, you cannot always be sure when the rain will fall.
To protect Democratic candidates from a large Republican turnout in November, Democratic Gov. Bob Holden put the issue on the August primary ballot.
It cost Holden, dearly.
The vote results strongly suggested that a lot those Republican voters who turned out to vote against gay marriages also took Democratic ballots to vote against Holden who had championed large tax increases.
"He took one for the party," Holden's top political operative told me the morning after Holden's August defeat for renomination as governor.
But rain making is not limited to bills or ballot issues, as former Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly encountered after his first election to the House in 1982.
Because Kelly had worked closely with the legislature on election issues as a county clerk, he was given major committee assignments unusual for a freshman.
But Kelly said that as freshman, he accepted his one assignment to a seemingly unimportant committee -- License.
Kelly didn't realize that the House License Committee also was a plum assignment.
With so many licensed professions subject to the requirements that the License Committee could advance or kill, the committee was a maker of rain in campaign contributions to its members through professional associations.
Kelly returned the next day to tell me he asked to be removed from the committee.
That day was the beginning of a deep respect I've developed over the years about Kelly's integrity -- and his wisdom to so quickly understand the nature of making rain.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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