John Britton, who represented Anheuser-Busch for years in the Missouri Capitol and became a model for a new breed of lobbyist, died Tuesday at 88.
Known as the 35th senator, he lobbied for 50 years and cultivated up-and-coming lawmakers at issue salons he hosted at his Jefferson City home.
Britton was a chain smoker who dressed in tailor-made suits and was always impeccably groomed. He set the standard for the lobbyist-as-power-broker with a five-member firm in the late 1980s, then the Capitol’s largest.
He developed a reputation for an uncanny ability to halt disliked legislation dead in its tracks and pass other measures deemed un-passable.
His focus often was in defense of liquor and tobacco interests, and it was said that his actions saved his clients millions of dollars.
With Cardinals tickets, cases of Budweiser and campaign checks at his disposal, Britton was someone lawmakers courted as much as Britton courted them. He was a daily presence in the building with a reputation for keeping his word.
“He’s never lied to me, and I think that’s an extremely important quality,” then-Sen. Roger Wilson, a Columbia Democrat, told The Star in 1988.
Said state Rep. Jim Barnes, a Raytown Democrat: “John knows that a lobbyist has to understand the legislation he is lobbying. A lot of them don’t understand the basics.”
State Sen. Ed Quick, a Kansas City Democrat, said he often disagreed with Britton, but “there’s never any hard feelings.”
The Post-Dispatch reported that Britton had undergone gall bladder surgery about three weeks ago. He died at St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City.
On Twitter, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called Britton “my great and irreplaceable friend,” adding, “There'll never be another.”
In a statement, House Speaker Tim Jones said this:
“It was with immense sadness that I absorbed the news of the passing of my friend and a friend to so many, John Britton. Through his decades of work within the halls of the State Capitol and across the State of Missouri, he became an iconic figure who set the standard by which all other lobbyists are measured. Our state will deeply miss this great man who was a war hero, a scholar, a philosopher, and a defender of the individual liberties of all Missourians.”
A World War II paratrooper, Britton’s clients at one time included Hallmark Cards, the Alliance of American Insurers, Famous Barr Co., the 3M Co., the Tobacco Institute and the Public Television Association of Missouri.
Funeral arrangements are pending.