Lobbyists spent almost $350,000 during the first six months of the year buying gifts for members of the Missouri General Assembly and their staffs.
Voters who want government free of improper influence should look at the gift list.
Golf. Tickets to Chiefs, Royals and Cardinals games. And meals: breakfasts, lunches, dinners.
Lobbyists’ spending on gifts actually declined this year, according to an analysis of the data by The Star. But that should be small comfort to voters who think lawmakers should make decisions on the merits, not over a fish sandwich with a lobbyist.
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Concerned voters should pressure legislators to do next year what they failed to do this year: Prohibit lobbyists from buying any gifts for anyone who works in the General Assembly.
Many lawmakers have resisted that kind of ethics reform. They claim the gifts are so small as to be inconsequential, and since the gifts are disclosed, the chances for corruption are small.
Yet even small gifts buy lobbyists access that isn’t available to the ordinary citizen. Those small favors add up and increase public cynicism about influence-peddling in politics.
To its credit, the Missouri House passed a ban on most lobbyist gifts this year. But the bill repeatedly has died in the state Senate, where members have apparently grown accustomed to small favors from special interests.
Gifts to Kansas City-area senators include flowers, travel and lodging expenses, concert tickets and meals. No one can seriously argue those gifts and recreational outings are actually essential or even related to state business.
Gov. Eric Greitens isn’t blameless here. He proposed a ban on lobbyist gifts this year and made accusations of corruption a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign.
Yet his own role in undisclosed dark money contributions to a political group gave state senators a ready-made excuse to duck ethics reform. Greitens can hardly call for an end to improper influence in the legislature while his friends take undisclosed checks to further his political career.
Perhaps the push for an ethics overhaul will accelerate next session — before lawmakers face voters. A gift ban should be part of a broader ethics reform effort that would also make it harder for lawmakers to turn into lobbyists when they leave office.
Ethics reform is hard. But it’s essential to the public’s confidence in state government.
We believe lawmakers should be paid more for what they do. They should also pay for their own fish sandwiches — and all of their expenses — instead of relying on special interests to do it for them.