Missouri Lawmakers Pass Ethics Bill

By John Celock

The Missouri House of Representatives Thursday advanced ethics legislation in a state that has been criticized by some as lacking in ethics laws.

The House voted 132-13 to pass legislation that would place a $25 limit on gifts from lobbyists, along with a one year ban on becoming a lobbyist after leaving elective office. In addition the bill would expand personal financial disclosures for lawmakers to twice a year. Some were critical on what the bill lacked .

“Last time we discussed this topic we had the greatest ethics bill in the universe. While no one will call this the greatest ethics bill in the universe we should talk about what we’re doing here today,” House Majority Floor Leader Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said. “People will want to talk about what’s not in the bill.”

The debate preceding the vote had a focus on a series of ethics related issues including the $25 gift limit for lobbyists. Legislators said this would reduce lobbyists from paying for expensive dinners for legislators. In addition they talked about lobbyists just as easily taking a legislator for dinner at Applebees under the bill.

Rep. Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) questioned if it was worse for a legislator to receive a $25 gift or a $15,000 campaign contribution. Missouri does not have limits on campaign donations.

A lawmaker responded to Ellington that the gifts will have a bigger influence.

“Campaign contributions are helping you run a campaign to get to Jefferson City it is not the same thing,” the lawmaker said.

The bill also discussed a series of hypothetical issues, including one lawmaker talking about how several years ago, a trade group pulled him into a basement room at the Capitol and fed him dry chicken and “bad mashed potatoes” and he ran into issues with state ethics officials for not reporting the meal. The lawmaker stressed he did not enjoy the meal and said the bottled water he had with his meal did not make the chicken enjoyable.

“Dinging us for every meal is not fair,” the legislator said.

Progressive advocates criticized the bill on Twitter, saying that it would allow the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative leaning group, to pay for legislators to attend their conferences.

Richardson said though that the bill was a “step in the right direction” for the state.

“For the first time in the history of this state we will pass a real revolving door ban,” he said. “For the first time in this state we will pass a real ban on gifts. We will require people to have twice annual personal financial disclosure.”