Just a friendly reminder to Missouri officials: Blatant conflicts of interest should be avoided at all costs.
These days in Jefferson City, that guiding principle has been forgotten. And it’s disturbing.
Example No. 1 is a doozy. Right now, only one company in the weigh station bypass industry is allowed to operate in Missouri. That company is a nonprofit called HELP Inc. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that HELP Inc. has invested about $20 million in technology to allow tractor-trailers that pay for the service to skip weigh stations. Those stations suck up time and cost those transportation companies big money.
In the past year, a second company, Drivewyze, tried to enter the Missouri market, but state regulators blocked the move. Turns out that two of those regulators, from the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Highway Patrol, serve on the HELP Inc. board.
What appears to be a clear conflict of interest has prompted the FBI to launch an investigation. Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway is pursuing her own inquiry.
But that’s hardly the only potential conflict of interest roiling the Statehouse these days. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard continues to face allegations that he’s engaged in pay to play for sponsoring a bill that critics say would gut consumer protections. One company that could benefit is Tamko Building Products of Joplin, owned by long-time GOP mega-donor David Humphreys. He contributed more than $2 million to Gov. Eric Greitens last year and $200,000 to the bill’s sponsor, the Senate president pro tem himself.
Tamko faces a class-action lawsuit under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act for allegedly selling defective shingles. The company has said it did nothing wrong.
Even some of Richard’s fellow Republicans have said the situation deserves further scrutiny. “This certainly does raise questions worth asking,” said state Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican.
Still another example involves a bill that would make it harder for Missourians to sue for workplace discrimination. Turns out that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican, owns a furniture store chain in southeast Missouri. That chain was sued two years ago over allegations of racial discrimination.
A supervisor at one of the chain’s stores in Sikeston allegedly hurled racial slurs at a black account manager. Romine hasn’t commented on that incident but said he’s not trying to dig himself out of a personal jam with his legislation. The Missouri Human Rights Commission has ruled that the claim lacks merit.
Still, some lawmakers don’t like how it looks. State Rep. Steven Roberts, a St. Louis Democrat, wound up cross-examining Romine “like a prosecutor” over the legislation and the possible conflict, according to one news account.
There are other examples, too, like the one Galloway, the state auditor, uncovered this week involving something called transportation development districts. In one case she cited involving a Jefferson City shopping center, district board members awarded a $2 million construction contract to a company owned by one of the board members.
“If that’s not self-dealing, I don’t know what is,” Galloway told reporters.
For now, we’d like to remind officials that appearances count for a lot in the world of politics. And all of this looks bad. Very bad. It may even be illegal.