The Missouri House on Thursday signed off on ethics legislation that would cap lobbyist gifts at $25 apiece and ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office.
Those two provisions differ from the version passed by the Missouri Senate earlier this year, meaning differences would have to be worked out before it could be sent to the governor.
Republicans celebrated the bill as a step in the right direction on ethics reform. Missouri is currently the only state in the nation with the trio of no caps on lobbyist gifts, no limits on campaign contributions and no cooling-off period for lawmakers.
“This bill has been a long time coming,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, later adding: “This is not a perfect bill. But it’s a good bill.”
The bill won bipartisan support, passing in a 132-14 vote. But Democrats said it didn’t go nearly far enough.
“It’s progress,” said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat. “On a scale of one to 10, I’d say it’s a one.”
Rep. Kevin McManus, a Kansas City Democrat, tried to amend the bill to implement campaign contribution limits and disclosure requirements for political nonprofits.
He was never recognized by House Speaker John Diehl to offer his amendments.
The $25 cap on lobbyist gifts is the biggest change from the Senate version. Missouri lobbyists spend an average of $1 million a year cumulatively on gifts to lawmakers, including meals to sporting event tickets and travel expenses.
Rep. Sheila Solon, a Blue Springs Republican, said there is no real justification for lawmakers accepting lobbyist gifts.
“We get compensated by the taxpayers of Missouri,” she said. “We also get a per diem. That should be enough.”
Lobbyist gifts aren’t inherently wrong, said Rep. Kevin Engler, a Republican from southeast Missouri. But, he said, things have gotten out of hand.
“I’ve been sickened by that since I’ve been up here, people who abuse the system,” he said.
Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, believes the focus on gifts is misdirected.
“Which is more dangerous: going out for a $100 meal or taking a $100,000 campaign donation?” he asked.
The Senate version banned elected officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office, but it didn’t apply to those who are currently in office. The House lowered it to one year but included current officeholders in the restriction.
The bill now heads back to the Senate, which can accept the House changes or ask for a conference to work out the differences. In addition to the gifts cap and cooling-off period, the bill prohibits elected officials from serving as paid political consultants while still in office.