Missouri’s governor as goalie: A look at two Jay Nixon vetoes

07/17/2014 6:44 PM

07/17/2014 7:39 PM

Tim Howard he isn’t, but Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has been putting on a good show as goalie.

At the end of the legislative session, only the governor is there to stop the worst of the General Assembly’s bills from becoming law. With a legislature as beholden to industry and interest groups as Missouri’s, you want a lot of action in front of the net.

Nixon provided that this year with 33 vetoes. A closer look at two of them provides a disturbing glimpse of why a backstop is so needed.

The e-cigarette veto

Electronic cigarettes are either a deterrent to tobacco products, or a gateway to the real thing, depending on which side of the passionate debate one is on. Either way, tobacco companies have jumped into the fast-growing e-cigarette market and now control a good percentage of it.

Prompted by Reynolds American, the legislature passed a bill prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. No problem there. But the bill also excludes “alternative nicotine products” and “vapor products” from Missouri regulations and taxes on tobacco products. In other words, tobacco companies can create a product that people smoke, possibly at long-term risk to their health, and act as though they are marketing bubble gum.

The bill, as Nixon correctly noted, “creates a facade of regulation.”

The money trail is especially enlightening. Records show Reynolds American gave generous campaign contributions to key committee leaders as the bill made its way through the legislative process.

For example, Caleb Jones, a Republican from California, Mo., who chairs the House general laws committee, received $2,500 from the cigarette maker on April 23. His committee hearing was April 24.

Caleb Rowden, a Republican from Columbia, sponsored the bill and received a $1,000 contribution on the day it passed the House.

The top leaders of the House, Speaker Tim Jones and majority leader John Diehl, both received $12,000 donations from Reynolds American in June, which could be either considered thank-you gifts or incentives to fight for a veto override.

Coincidences, as some of the legislators have said? If so, there are a lot of them. Missouri needs ethics rules banning lawmakers from accepting donations while the legislature is in session.

The payday loan veto

Payday lenders love Missouri, with its notoriously loose regulations. But they’re pretty nervous about these “faith-based” folks and others who have been agitating for tighter controls, maybe in the form of a citizen’ ballot initiative.

So, with some willing lawmakers, the industry cooked up a “reform” bill. Instead of an annual interest rate that amounts to 1,950 percent, as currently permitted, the legislature’s bill would have the effect of capping the rate at about 912 percent. Given that the average annual percentage rate on a payday loan in Missouri is currently an exorbitant 454 percent, it’s no surprise that the industry wanted this bill.

As Nixon wrote, it “appears to be part of a coordinated effort by the payday loan industry to avoid more meaningful reform.”

Exactly. And we can expect that push to continue. A just-filed report by Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity, an entity created to fund political activities on behalf of payday lenders, shows the group spent more than $508,000 in the current election cycle and has $478,000 still on hand. It spent $42,736 in the last quarter, with most of that amount going to consultant Jeff Roe’s firm, Axiom Strategies, for “regional operations management.”

That’s apart from what individual payday loan companies are willing to contribute to helpful legislators.

Conclusion: Nixon is as political as everyone else in Jefferson City. But when it comes to stopping some of the dirtiest plays, he’s shown the right moves.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com.

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