Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling in a West Virginia case that overturned the decision of an elected state Supreme Court judge who refused to remove himself from a case. The judge ruled on a case for a defendant who had made large contributions to his re-election campaign. The court also has approved reasonable limits on campaign contributions in the order of $500-$1,000 without a violation of free speech. These decisions have defined what constitutes money and influence in American politics.

Iowa law prohibits elected officials from receiving contributions from lobbyists during a legislative session. Large campaign contributions buy access. Officials are receptive to calls and contacts from those who give them money for their campaigns. Buying influence is another matter.

Most of our state officials, representatives and senators accept large contributions from special interests prior to and after legislative sessions in the normal course of raising money for re-election. My conversations with some indicate they do not believe their votes are being purchased, and they believe most of their colleagues feel the same way. However, they also believe that large contributors of large sums expect that they are buying access or influence.

Ironically, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement survey of contributors to Iowa candidates completed last year found that a large majority of contributors believe there's too much money in politics.

Finally, there seems to be wide consensus among legislators that too much money is required to run for office.

If legislators believe there is too much money in Iowa politics, why don't they approve limits on campaign contributions like their colleagues in most of the states surrounding Iowa?

The recent Supreme Court decision suggests that we may be one case away from prohibiting such activity by all elected officials.

Iowa legislators have two options to avoid these conflicts:

1. They can refuse large contributions from individuals, political action committees, leadership funds and 527s that may be seeking their support or remove themselves from voting on bills that would directly benefit a contributor.

2. They can enact laws that reduce the influence of big money in politics.

In the 2009 legislative session, Senate File 287 limiting campaign contributions passed out of the Senate State Government Committee. It will be eligible for debate in 2010.

It's time that Iowa voters tell their elected officials we need campaign contribution limits now, before the next scandal occurs. 



Tim Urban is the president of Urban Development Corp. and a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.