Government & Politics

Missouri Senate Republicans offer private dinners for campaign contributions

The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.

Kansas City’s Hotel Sorella on the Country Club Plaza will host a three-day retreat for Republican state senators later this month. And for the right price, donors can purchase face-to-face meetings with GOP leaders when they return to the state Capitol to begin legislating in January.

Republicans now hold 24 of the Senate’s 34 seats. That number could change slightly after next week’s elections, but the GOP is expected to keep its veto-proof super majority.

According to an invitation to the event, a $5,000 donation to the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee — which helps fund GOP candidates for the state Senate — buys four tickets to a Nov. 16 tour of Arrowhead Stadium.

After the tour, there will be dinner and cocktails.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that the donation also buys dinner during the first two weeks of the 2017 legislative session with the entire Senate leadership team.

A $2,500 donation buys two tickets to the Arrowhead Stadium tour, dinner and cocktails. For that price, the donor gets breakfast during the first two weeks of the 2017 session with Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard and Majority Leader Mike Kehoe.

Both the dinner and breakfast sessions with senate leaders will take place in Jefferson City.

A $1,000 donation only buys two tickets for the Arrowhead Stadium event.

“The Senate majority caucus’ scheme to sell access to Senate majority leadership is a new low for ethics in Jefferson City,” said Laura Swinford, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Missouri.

A spokesman for the Senate majority has not responded to a request for comment.

Arrowhead offers tours to the general public — minus the meetings with politicians — for $30 for adults and $25 for children, according to its website.

Ethics reform was a major topic during the 2016 session. Missouri entered the year as the only state with no limit on campaign contributions, no limit on gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists and no waiting period before lawmakers can leave office to lobby their former colleagues.

Lawmakers passed a six-month waiting period, but left the other two areas untouched. A proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot statewide next Tuesday could reinstate contribution limits in Missouri if it passes.

The Senate caught flak earlier this year after a report by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway criticized a bank account operated by the Senate outside the state treasury for the purpose of soliciting contributions from lobbyists to pay for meals. Galloway, a Democrat, said the fund is unconstitutional and could create a conflict of interest.

Her conclusions were nearly identical to those of former state Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican.