The Buzz

Missouri lawmakers look at ethics reform proposals

A month into the 2014 session, lawmakers have taken their first official swing at reforming the way business is conducted in the Missouri Capitol.

A Senate committee has discussed an ethics reform bill that would ban lawmakers from serving as paid political consultants for their fellow legislators or from serving as a lobbyist until two years after they leave office.

It would also ban lobbyist gifts — such as meals — assigned to a committee instead of to an individual lawmaker. That practice, which was highlighted last year by The Star, is considered by many as a way to circumvent gift disclosure laws and hide the true recipients.

The bill would also bar lobbyists from paying for out-of-state trips for lawmakers. Those trips would have to be paid for by a legislator with personal funds or campaign money.

The legislation does not address limits on campaign contributions or lobbyist gifts. Missouri is

currently the only state

that does not impose any limits on either.

Contribution limits were intentionally left out of the legislation to increase the likelihood of its success, said Sen. Brad Lager, a Savannah Republican and the bill’s sponsor.

“We’ve wanted to do this for several years, but it always gets caught up in the fight over contribution limits,” he said. “At some point, we need to put what we can’t deal with aside and focus on the stuff that’s good government and we all agree needs to happen.”

Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat, argued that without contribution limits, the bill can’t be called true reform.

“So we say an elected official can’t immediately become a lobbyist. I have no problem with that,” LeVota said. “But we do allow them to take half a million dollars in donations while they are in office. Have we really done anything to improve the system?”

Missouri voters first implemented campaign contribution limits in 1994. They were eventually repealed by a Republican-led General Assembly in 2008.

LeVota is among a handful of lawmakers who have sponsored legislation reimplementing limits.

Senate President Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican, said he hopes lawmakers can make progress on the issue.

“There’s an opportunity moving forward with ethics legislation,” he said, later adding: “I hope we don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good.”

Ethics reform is also on the agenda of the Missouri House. A handful of proposals have been introduced in that chamber and assigned to the General Laws Committee.

Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican and the committee’s chairman, said each bill will get a hearing over the next two weeks in the hopes of finding the right combination of ideas to move forward.