The Buzz

Missouri legislature faulted over lobbyist gifts, open records

The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City
The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City File photo

Despite being criticized by two state auditors, the Missouri Senate continues to operate a bank account outside the state treasury for the purpose of soliciting contributions from lobbyists to pay for meals for senators and staff.

In an audit released Monday, state Auditor Nicole Galloway criticized the Missouri House and Senate for soliciting contributions from lobbyists that could create a conflict of interest. Galloway’s spokeswoman said the Senate bank account in particular “is in violation of the Missouri Constitution.”

The audit also concluded that both chambers have unclear and incomplete open records policies which have led to confusion over what is and is not open to the public. And neither the House nor Senate employee handbooks includes whistleblower protections for employees facing retaliation for reporting abuse of authority or violations of the law witnessed in the workplace.

Galloway, a Democrat, didn’t differ much in her findings from a similar audit prepared in 2013 by then-Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican.

In the Senate, Galloway’s audit found that contributions to an outside bank account from lobbyists totaled $6,500 from 2013 to 2015. She said the Senate does not have the constititutional authority to maintain this bank account outside of the state’s treasury.

Schweich’s previous audit found the Senate spent $8,689 in lobbyist-raised funds in 2011 for a Senate retirement dinner and retirement gifts.

In an official response to the audit, Senate administrators said they cannot close the account because “there is no apparent solution” for how to pay for meals when the Senate works late.

“When the Senate is in session, Senate staff are required to be present until session adjourns, and the schedule is such that it’s difficult to predict when staff will work in excess of 12 hours,” the response to the audit stated. “The Senate agrees to continue to review other ways to purchase meals as necessary.”

Lawmakers receive $104 each day the legislature is in session for miscellaneous costs such as food and lodging.

The House also got dinged for soliciting lobbyist contributions. Members of the House’s Interim Committee on Education solicited and received contributions of $500 from each of two lobbying firms for travel costs of the committee’s statewide education tour during September and October 2013. The contributions were used for a $1,000 bus rental deposit.

As for open records, both the House and Senate have long argued that individual members are exempt from Missouri’s Sunshine Law. But Galloway notes that neither chamber has established a policy for what records it asserts are specifically closed or open. Additionally, the Senate retains emails for only 30 days, while the House keeps emails for six weeks.

Galloway recommended that lawmakers clarify open records and email retention policies. In his previous audit, Schweich had called for lawmakers to amend the law so that it clearly applies to individual legislators, calling the argument that members of the General Assembly are exempt “a double standard.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock