Government & Politics

Ban on lobbyist gifts passes Missouri House committee

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lobbyists no longer could dole out gifts to legislators and other public officials under a proposal that passed unanimously out of a House committee on Tuesday.

Gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers are unlimited under current law.

Hermann Republican Rep. Justin Alferman’s measure would prohibit that.

He told members of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability that the aim is to “alleviate the undue influence of lobbyists in Jefferson City.”

Lobbyists spent more than $220,000 on gifts to individual lawmakers last year and more than $209,000 in the previous year. Gifts included baseball tickets and meals worth hundreds of dollars.

“Some of us have more stomach than others do for warding off influence upon receiving gifts,” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, a former representative who now acts as the executive director of the advocacy group Empower Missouri. Mott Oxford, who spoke in favor of the bill, said it’s a step toward restoring public trust in the Legislature.

Changes made to the bill during the committee hearing included also banning gifts of flowers and setting a $50 limit on the value of honorary plaques lawmakers receive.

Lobbyists still could pay for events if they invite all lawmakers and all statewide elected officials in writing.

The measure now heads to the full House.

The bill is one of a series aimed at changing state ethics laws, an effort spurred after two former lawmakers accused last year of inappropriate behavior toward interns stepped down.

Former House speaker John Diehl resigned on the last day of the 2015 session after admitting to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with an intern. Months later, former Independence Democrat Sen. Paul LeVota left office amid claims that he sexually harassed interns, which he denied.

Taskforce or advisory committee members appointed by executive branch officials to make recommendations on how public money is spent would face greater reporting requirements, such as disclosing their personal financial interests, under another proposal passed unanimously.

The measure likely would have applied to, for example, the two-person taskforce created by Gov. Jay Nixon to come up with a plan to keep the Rams football team in St. Louis.

The House panel also voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would prohibit candidates from investing money raised by their campaigns.

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