Editorial: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens off to strong start with call for ethics reform

Now is the time for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to act on his ethics pledges, writes The Star’s editorial board.
Now is the time for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to act on his ethics pledges, writes The Star’s editorial board. AP

Eric Greitens fired a lot of big guns during his successful run for Missouri governor last year.

At least he’s sticking to them.

Give the new Republican governor credit for standing resolutely beside one of the central themes of his winning campaign — his continuing call to clean up the cesspool that is Missouri government.

In his first State of the State speech last week, Greitens stared directly into the vast House chamber that was full of the same lawmakers he branded as “corrupt, career politicians” throughout the fall. He wisely chose not to repeat that criticism, but he repeated his demands that his fellow Republicans, who dominate the General Assembly, get to work cleaning house.

Greitens again called for a ban on lobbyist gifts that would stem the flow of sports tickets, airline tickets and other lavish perks that so many lawmakers have enjoyed over the years. And he called for effective restrictions on legislators leaving their posts one day and becoming highly paid lobbyists the next.

Greitens is also calling for term limits for all statewide officeholders. Now, only the governor and treasurer face limits.

The new governor did not mince words Tuesday: The will of the people too often has been “obstructed and corrupted by insiders and lobbyists,” he said. His money quote: “This is a big place, with a powerful purpose, and it has too often been consumed by small goals and petty politics.”

Greitens will need to hustle to pass his gift and lobbying bans while facing a recalcitrant state Senate. But the time to do so is now, when Greitens’ popularity is high, and he can exert maximum influence.

He shows every sign that he’s up to that task.

This editorial board has crusaded for ethics reform for years, and that work surely contributed to the wise decision by Missouri voters in November to pass sweeping caps on political donations. Gone are the days of $1 million checks. Missourians have been way ahead of their politicians in understanding the corrupting influence of money.

The November vote is now facing a legal challenge, and the new law is one that Attorney General Josh Hawley must vigorously defend. Voters approved the limits with a whopping 70 percent support. In 1994, 74 percent of Missourians approved contribution caps. That’s consistency.

Despite his persistence, Greitens is hardly a perfect messenger. The governor’s cause would be bolstered if he disclosed the sources of nearly $2 million in anonymous campaign donations he received from a political committee called SEALS for Truth. At the time, it was the largest single contribution in state history.

And Greitens’ willingness to accept $2.8 million in donations before the new limits kicked in last month doesn’t sit well, either. Among those donations was $1 million from Joplin roofing tycoon David Humphreys and his sister.

Still, if Greitens can pull off an ethics makeover of the state Capitol, that will rank as a monumental achievement and one too long in the making. We stand behind his crusade.