The Buzz

Missouri Senate and House committees consider ethics reform

Updated: 2014-02-26T05:55:37Z

By JASON HANCOCK

The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent

— When the Missouri General Assembly voted in 2008 to repeal voter-imposed campaign donation limits, Democrat Jamilah Nasheed cast one of the deciding votes in the House.

“That was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made as a legislator” said Nasheed of St. Louis, who now serves in the Missouri Senate. “Whatever I can do to right my wrong, I am going to do.”

A Senate committee Tuesday held a hearing on a bill from Nasheed that would impose contribution limits of $2,600 for any candidate in any election. The limits would be increased in each odd-numbered year based upon fluctuations in the federal consumer price index.

Her bill also would bar lawmakers, their staffs and their family from accepting travel and tickets to sporting events or concerts from lobbyists.

Missouri is the only state without limits on campaign donations or on how much an elected official can accept in personal gifts from lobbyists.

“The public perception of politicians in this state is not good,” she said. “They think we’re all bought and paid for by special interests.”

In addition to Nasheed’s bill, the Senate committee heard testimony on legislation sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican, that also would impose contribution limits. In Kraus’ bill, the limits range from $600 for local offices in smaller communities up to $10,000 for statewide candidates.

Kraus’ bill also would impose a $50 cap on individual lobbyist gifts, bar political fundraising in buildings owned by the state or political subdivisions, implement a two-year cooling-off period before lawmakers can become lobbyists after leaving office and bar elected officials from acting as paid political consultants.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican, voiced concern about whether limits should be included in an ethics reform bill.

Last week, he questioned whether the inclusion of contribution limits could prove controversial and ultimately sink efforts to pass legislation. This week he questioned their effectiveness.

“The federal system has strict limits,” he said. “But that hasn’t done anything to reduce the influence of money and hasn’t done anything to address the public perception.”

Meanwhile, a Missouri House committee heard testimony Tuesday on five ethics-related bills. They ranged from tweaks to disclosure laws to a wholesale reworking of the campaign finance and ethics system supported by Secretary of State Jason Kander.

Concern among House members focused on provisions imposing a cooling-off period before a former lawmaker can return to the Capitol as a paid lobbyist.

“This solves a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Rep. Mike Colona, a St. Louis Democrat.

The chairman of that committee, Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican, said he expects at least one ethics reform bill to make its way to the full House in the coming weeks.

To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.

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