Missouri state Sen. John Lamping says paid political consultants should stick to campaigns — and stay out of policy decisions.
Lamping, a Republican from the St. Louis area, filed an ethics reform bill this month that would prohibit consultants from working as lobbyists — and lobbyists from working as consultants. He says operatives who help elect candidates shouldn’t be able to turn around and work for special-interest clients to influence those lawmakers, as is now routinely the case.
“The problem we have in Missouri with people wearing both of those hats … is that it gives tremendous leverage to that person,” he said. “It’s way too much access. And many times it isn’t disclosed.”
The proposal is part of a broader ethics blueprint. Under his plan, consultants couldn’t lobby while taking money from candidates and for six months after “ceasing to consult.” Registered lobbyists couldn’t offer campaign advice, for money, within a similar time-frame.
Additionally, political consultants would be required to register with the Missouri Ethics Commission and publicly disclose their clients. Under current law, only lobbyists must register.
During the legislature’s 2013 session, more than 40 lobbyists and consultants earned hundreds of thousands of dollars buttonholing Missouri lawmakers over a proposed change in liquor distribution laws. But there are scores of additional examples of consultants and lobbyists blurring the line between politics and policy, Lamping said.
“You have political consultants who also lobby for the utility companies. You have consultants who are working … on the Medicaid expansion. You have consultants on all sides of a lot of issues,” he said.
A story in The Star this month highlighted concerns about the excessive influence of political consultants on their lawmaker clients.
Steve Glorioso, a well-known local Democratic political adviser and consultant, is also a registered lobbyist and worked on the liquor issue. He said banning lobbyists from working as consultants might run into constitutional problems.
“Registering is no big deal,” he said in an email. “But what is his definition of a political consultant? I would refer him to the United States Constitution, especially the First Amendment.”
Woody Cozad, a registered lobbyist who does not consult on political issues for a fee, raised a similar concern.
“I don’t see that the bill would alter the situation very much — although he might be able to talk me into it,” Cozad said.
But Larry Jacob, a Kansas City-based political consultant, said stricter rules might be helpful.
“The more transparency the better,” he said in an email. “It’s another form to fill out, but that’s a small price to put some order to the political Wild West of Missouri.”
Jeff Roe, one of the best-known political consultants in Missouri, is not registered as a lobbyist, but he was involved in the liquor law discussion last spring.
“Tell us the rules and we will play by them,” he said in an email.
Lamping says he expects strong opposition to his bill from the lobbyist/consultant community. He also expects elected members to be skeptical, since his bill would also prohibit them from any paid political consulting until a year has passed after leaving office.
General Assembly members would also be prohibited from lobbying for three years after leaving office. Those members could lobby for religious or charitable purposes immediately, but only for free.
In recent years, some sitting members of the legislature have operated political consulting businesses as a sideline, prompting some criticism of the practice.
Lamping says he’s prepared to make his case next year. Ethics reform may be one of the main topics on the 2014 legislative agenda in Missouri.
“The intention here is to say, just pick your hat,” he said. “If you want to be a lobbyist, be a lobbyist. If you want to be a consultant, be a consultant.”