* barring incumbent state lawmakers, along with candidates for the House and the Senate, from working as paid political consultants for fellow state lawmakers or candidates
* creating a 2-year “cooling off period” before a former lawmaker can become a lobbyist
* barring lobbyists from paying for out-of-state travel and related expenses for state lawmakers
* requiring all lawmakers and state elected officials to complete one hour of ethics training within 120 days of taking office, with failure to do so resulting in a salary withhold until training is completed
* requiring lobbyists to report everyone they represent in order to eliminate the practice of hiring subcontractors to hide who a lobbyist really works for
* requiring lobbyists to report all expenditures made of behalf of all public officials
One thing that is slow to be included in this list is putting limits on campaign contributions. At the present time there are no contribution limits, but a proposed Senate bill, the Missouri Anti-Corruption Act, seeks to put an end to unlimited gifts from lobbyists and restore campaign contribution limits. It also seeks to close up loopholes that may lead to corruption. Missouri is criticized for being among the states that have the nation’s weakest ethics laws, and we are the only state with a trio of “no limits”— no campaign contribution limits, no lobbyists’ gifts limit, and no revolving-door policy, a policy that prevents a lawmaker from becoming a lobbyist immediately after leaving the legislature.
A good example of the no revolving-door policy was apparent in December when five former House members left office and immediately became lobbyists. Then, in January, a returning legislator decided against remaining in the House, resigned before being sworn in and left to become a lobbyist. His reasoning was that his race was so expensive and so stressful on his family that when he was offered the job of a lobbyist (and a much higher salary) he decided he couldn’t turn it down.
Generally speaking, corruption is difficult to find and most people do not believe votes are being bought by lobbyists, though public perception says that some changes are necessary. There is a sense that citizens in Missouri are concerned with hearing news reports of lobbyists paying for committee hearings held at country clubs or restaurants, as well as news that since 2007 Missouri lawmakers have accepted more than $130,000 worth of tickets and food to St Louis Cardinals’ World Series and playoff games.
Missourians are questioning some lawmakers’ practices as to whether they are ethical or not. For example, in the Missouri House there has been a long-standing tradition for lobbyists to hire caterers to provide food at some committee meetings. If you happen to be on a committee that meets at 8 a.m., breakfast will usually be served. If you are on a committee that meets at noon, then lunch will be served, and if your committee meets at 5 p.m., you can expect dinner to be brought in. As new lawmakers were sworn in, this just became an accepted practice and really was never questioned. Most of us never even considered this action might be a problem.
I applauded Speaker Diehl’s announcement this week that there will be no more food served at committee hearings. My feeling, as Speaker Diehl pointed out, is that we should be held to the same decorum in committee hearings as we have on the House floor—no food is allowed there, and only drinks (water, coffee, tea, or soft drinks) are acceptable.
With a number of ethics bills being filed this session, this could be the year that Missouri’s General Assembly passes meaningful reform legislation, and a good ethics bill will go a long way in addressing any perceptions of wrongdoing in our state government.