Missouri lawmakers won’t clean up government corruption. Voters should do it for them

The Clean Missouri initiative appears headed to the ballot in Missouri. Ethics reform can’t come a moment too soon.
The Clean Missouri initiative appears headed to the ballot in Missouri. Ethics reform can’t come a moment too soon.

Missourians are a major step closer to more ethical and transparent government.

On Thursday, a group called Clean Missouri turned in more than 340,000 petition signatures calling for a referendum on ethics reform.

If enough signatures are valid — a highly likely prospect — voters will be able to embed important ethics changes in the state’s constitution this year.

The vote can’t come soon enough. As recent events have shown, Missouri is one of the most unethical states in the union. And lawmakers have shown little willingness to address the problem.

Among other things, the Clean Missouri amendments would:

▪ Establish a two-year waiting period before ex-lawmakers and former legislative employees can lobby.

▪ Prohibit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers of more than $5.

▪ Limit campaign contributions to $2,500 for state senators and $2,000 for state representatives.

▪ Establish a “nonpartisan state demographer” who will help draw more neutral legislative districts.

▪ Make legislative records more public and transparent.

These reforms are essential. The revolving door between the floors of the General Assembly and lobbying jobs turns constantly.

Former Senate President pro tem Tom Dempsey is a registered lobbyist, as are former House Speakers Carl Bearden and Steve Tilley. So are former lawmakers Noel Torpey, Chris Molendorp, Jeff Grisamore, Shannon Cooper and others.

The amendment would not prohibit former members from lobbying forever. But a two-year waiting period would help sever the connection between working for the people and working for private interests.

A more equitable redistricting process would also be welcome. Legislators will likely engage in a bitter argument over drawing districts for political gain after the next census.

Opposition to the Clean Missouri reforms is already gathering. This should not be a surprise. In a state where Eric Greitens still serves as governor, resistance to ethical government is predictable.

“Clean Missouri’s real purpose is to decrease or even eliminate the Republican majority in Jefferson City and put Democrat elites in charge,” state Rep. Hannah Kelly, a Mountain Grove Republican, wrote in April.

We are concerned about reports that interests connected with well-known liberal donor George Soros are involved in funding the campaign. Supporters of Clean Missouri must be fully transparent about their funding sources between now and Election Day.

But ethics shouldn’t be a partisan issue. And complaining Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for the referendum. The GOP controls the Missouri General Assembly and the governor’s office, yet has been unable to enact meaningful reform.

Voters, not lawmakers, need to wash the mud from Missouri government. They’ll almost certainly get the chance this year.