A Missouri Senate committee approved legislation Monday capping the amount of gifts elected officials can accept from lobbyists.
But with only five weeks left before the legislative session adjourns for the year, the bill’s chances appear shaky at best.
The bill approved unanimously Monday would cap how much a lobbyist could spend on a gift to a lawmaker at $10 a day. That cap also would apply to the lawmaker’s staff, spouse or children. Gifts could still be given to groups, such as the entire Senate, as long as every member of the General Assembly is invited at least 72 hours beforehand.
But Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican, said the bill probably would look much different by the time it comes up for debate in the full Senate. He plans to include portions of a bill passed by the Missouri House in January that also would allow group gifts but would completely ban individual gifts to elected officials.
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“I anticipate these two bills getting combined,” Kehoe said, later adding: “The best chance of it getting out of the Senate is for the Senate bill to be the vehicle.”
Lawmakers and their staffs collectively accept hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lobbyist-provided gifts, ranging from meals to trips to event tickets.
Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, has been the most outspoken proponent of banning lobbyist gifts. He campaigned on the issue and featured it prominently in his State of the State address in January. He also signed an order shortly after taking office prohibiting executive branch employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
But Greitens’ actions since taking office have damaged the chances of passing a gift ban.
The governor’s inaugural festivities were paid for by various corporations and lobbyists. Because Greitens used a nonprofit to raise that money, he doesn’t have to disclose how much was raised, how much was spent or how much each donor chipped in.
In early February, Greitens’ campaign treasurer filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office to establish A New Missouri Inc., a nonprofit organization that can accept unlimited contributions and won’t be required to disclose who is giving it money. The nonprofit’s mission is to advocate for the governor and his agenda.
His reliance on so-called dark money — the use of nonprofits to hide the source of campaign cash — has contributed to the slow progress of bills that seek to rein in lobbyist gifts. Some argue the governor’s actions prove that a gift ban doesn’t go far enough, while other say it is evidence that more focus is needed on transparency and disclosure.
Kehoe said that while he personally has no problem with these sorts of political nonprofits, he expects the topic will get lots of discussion when the Senate takes up the lobbyist gift bill.
“There will be a lot of conversation about it when it hits the floor,” he said.
If the bill approved Monday ends up passing the Senate, it would still need to wind its way through the legislative process in the House before it would go to the governor.