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Missouri House and Senate Considering Wide Range Of Ethics Reforms

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

One day after a Missouri House committee considered a slate of Republican-backed ethics reform bills, a Republican lawmaker wants Missouri voters to have the chance to restore campaign contribution limits.

Missouri currently has no limits.  A law removing them was passed in 2006 and signed by former Gov. Matt Blunt, but the Missouri Supreme Court reinstated the limits six months after the new law took effect.  Then in 2008, Missouri lawmakers again passed legislation to remove caps on campaign contributions, and was signed again by Blunt.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, was a member of the Missouri House when he voted in 2008 to remove contribution limits.

"At the time I believed it was the right thing to do," Schaaf said, "but subsequently I've come to realize that the benefits of campaign contribution limits outweigh the downside."

Schaaf is calling his proposed constitutional amendment the Missouri Anti-corruption Act, or Senate Joint Resolution 13.  He says super-sized campaign donations make it hard to say "no" to the donors.

"If somebody gives you a big check, the rule is that you dance with the one who 'brung' you," Schaaf said.  "You are going to have a certain benevolent feeling toward them."

Schaaf's measure would also bar elected officials from accepting gifts and job offers from lobbyists, close loopholes allowing unregistered lobbyists, ban campaign contributions from corporations and labor unions, and impose a three-year waiting period for former elected officials wanting to become lobbyists.  If passed by lawmakers it would go likely go before Missouri voters next year.

Senate ethics bill stalled

Meanwhile, another ethics proposal is currently idling in the Missouri Senate.

A wide-ranging bill by Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, was brought up Tuesday for first-round approval, or "perfection," as it's officially called.  Senate Bill 11 contains several proposed reforms, including a two-year waiting period for former elected officials who want to become lobbyists, and would bar state lawmakers from working as paid political consultants for fellow lawmakers.

Richard's bill, however, would not restore campaign contribution limits.  He also announced on the Senate floor that if any attempted to add an amendment to his bill reinstating limits, he would ask that the amendment be ruled out of order.

An amendment was offered by Democrat Scott Sifton of Affton t0 bar lobbyists from buying gifts for lawmakers. Richard also objected to that amendment and asked that it be ruled out of order.  Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, took Richard's request under advisement, and the bill was laid aside.

A ruling on Richard's point of order request is still pending.

Senators also defeated an amendment by Democrat Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis to bar lawmakers from accepting travel and tickets to sporting events and concerts.

No more food at House committee meetings

Incoming House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country
Credit Rebecca Smith | St. Louis Public Radio
House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and County

Members of the Missouri House will now have to eat their meals either before or after they attend committee meetings held at the state Capitol.  On Tuesday, House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, told his committee chairmen that meals will no longer be served at committee meetings, period.

"I believe that a committee meeting should be held to the same decorum as we have out on the House floor," Diehl said.  "The end result is that there will be no more food or meals served during committee meetings inside the Capitol."

It's been a long-standing tradition for lobbyists to hire caterers to provide food at most House committee meetings.  Diehl's decision was made without a formal rule change, but he strongly implied that any committee chairman who wants to remain one will not allow food to be brought into their meetings.

Read our earlier story below:

Gov. Jay Nixon, fellow Democratic lawmakers and more than a few Republicans are giving ethics reform attention so far this year, though it remains to be seen whether any of the proposals will make it out of the GOP-dominated House and Senate.

Last week, House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, banned committee meetings at country clubs and restaurants, requiring them to be held at the State Capitol.  However, lobbyists can still provide catered meals at committee meetings at the Capitol.  Perhaps not by coincidence, there was no lunch provided at Monday's meeting to hear ethics reform proposals.

Seven bills received their first public hearing Monday before a Missouri House committee on government oversight and accountability.

  • House Bill 221 would require anyone receiving more than $5,000.00 from a single contributor to report it to the Missouri Ethics Commission within 48 hours; donations above $500 made during the legislative session would also have to be reported within 48 hours.
  • House Bill 223 would require campaign ads containing the name, image or voice of an elected official to state whether it was paid for with taxpayer dollars.
  • House Bill 225 would bar the governor from appointing lawmakers to a commission or new job in exchange for votes on bills.
  • House Bill 226 would require any money spent by lobbyists outside Missouri be reported within 14 days.
  • House Bill 228 would require a one-year waiting period before former lawmakers or state elected officials could work as lobbyists.
  • House Bill 330 would ban gifts of more than $30 from lobbyists to lawmakers, their staff, and family members.
  • House Bill 331 would bar state lawmakers from serving as paid political consultants for fellow state lawmakers.

House Bills 221, 223, and 225 are sponsored by state Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.  He says HB 225 in particular would provide transparency to the gubernatorial appointments process.

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
A Mo. House committee meets Feb. 2, 2015, to hear several ethics reform proposals.

  "We've had a few instances that come to memory in the last six or so years," Rowden said, "with folks making accusations of quid pro quo in the governor's office and some questionable timing of appointments, etc."

Rowden didn't name any specific instances.

Last year, the Missouri Senate refused to confirm Nixon's nomination of former state Rep. Dennis Fowler, R-Advance, to the state Board of Probation and Parole.  In 2013, Fowler broke with Republicans and voted to uphold the governor's veto of a controversial tax cut bill.  

Rowden's bill would also require anyone nominated by the governor to a board, commission or job vacancy to disclose any campaign donations received up to four years prior to being nominated. State Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, questioned whether that provision was really necessary.

"Isn't this information as to the political contributions already readily available to every member of the Senate and every member of the general public by just doing a search?" Mitten asked Rowden.  He replied, "Sure."

Mitten continued, "I don't know that I necessarily have a problem codifying that, but it just seems to me that if it's already available, anybody that wants to politicize one of the gubernatorial appointments or make hay out of the contributions that were made, that can already be done."

House Bills 226, 228, 330, and 331 are sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, who also chairs the committee that conducted Monday's hearing.  While several lawmakers and activists have called for placing a two-year waiting period for former lawmakers who want to become lobbyists, Barnes' proposal (HB 228) would only require a one-year wait, which he says is the same time period required by the U.S. House of Representatives.

"It makes sense to me," Barnes said.  "It makes sense to the average voter that when somebody runs for office, they run for office for the purpose of serving the people of this state, and not as a stepping stone to a job as a lobbyist."

Currently Missouri has no waiting period.  For example, former state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, chose not to seek re-election in 2014 and left office at the end of the year.  Last month, he registered as a lobbyist and was hired by St. Louis-based utility Ameren Missouri.  While in office, Kelly championed several ethics reform measures, primarily calling for a restoration of campaign contribution limits.  In 2013 he signed on as a co-sponsor of the House Democrats' omnibus ethics bill, which would have required a two-year waiting period for former lawmakers seeking to work as lobbyists.

There was not a lot of debate on the seven bills heard in committee, and attendance was sparse compared to some of the other hearings conducted at the State Capitol Monday.  Only three people testified, two of which were lobbyists who did not support or oppose any of the measures, briefly speaking "for informational purposes only."  

Jeannette Mott Oxford
Credit Public Insight Network
Jeannette Mott Oxford

The third witness was former state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, who now heads the group Empower Missouri, which advocates for social justice.  Oxford says they support all seven bills heard by the committee, but expressed concern over how some lawmakers might try to skirt the proposals.

"I think a $30 cap on (personal gifts) is a good idea, but somebody might decide to (give) 300 (gifts of $30) in a year," Oxford said.  "When we had caps on campaign finance, some folks started a hundred committees to write a hundred (checks of $325) to House members and (one hundred checks of $650) to Senate members."

The house government oversight committee has not yet scheduled a vote on any of the bills.  After the meeting, Barnes fielded questions from reporters, including whether any proposals to restore campaign contribution limits would be considered.

"We will hear such bills," Barnes said, but added, "in the past when there were limits, there weren't (any) actual limits, and in a Citizens United world there is no way to put effective limits on contributions…the better system is to have a system of transparency."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.