When it’s legal to play a little loose with their ethical behavior, it’s clear some current and past Missouri General Assembly members will go that route.
And if an action is labeled illegal? It appears that sometimes won’t stop lawmakers either.
Several recent incidents have received worthwhile public attention in the Show-Me State, which is notorious for having some of the nation’s weakest ethics laws. As Gov. Jay Nixon told The Star’s editorial board Tuesday, progress on this issue has been “disappointing.”
▪ Hartville Republican Rep. Tony Dugger resigned on Aug. 19 so he could avoid obeying a new state law that took effect last Sunday.
Earlier this year the General Assembly passed — and Nixon signed — a bill that finally imposes a short, six-month waiting period on lawmakers before they can rush into being paid lobbyists.
It’s the right approach as the legislature tries to restore public trust. That goal isn’t met if it appears legislators can cast votes one day to help a business or special interest group, and turn around the next day to get paid to work for it.
Dugger unsuccessfully opposed the six-month cooling off period for potential lobbyists. Soon he could be navigating the halls of Jefferson City to help a new employer get its way.
▪ A new state audit this week criticized the Missouri Senate for soliciting lobbyists’ contributions to pay for meals for senators and their staffs.
The money is deposited in a bank account outside the state treasury — which auditor Nicole Galloway says violates the Missouri Constitution.
Unfortunately, Senate leaders responded by essentially holding up their hands and saying they couldn’t close the account and still pay for the meals.
This is a weak argument given the fact that lawmakers receive public funds for meals and lodging every day. That money could be used to help pay for food to keep them and some staff members fed at odd hours during long meetings.
Missouri’s legislative leaders keep saying they’re going to improve the ethical environment in Jefferson City. Simply closing one bank account would be a small step in that direction.