February 11, 2016

Missouri House republicans working on ethics proposal

State house Republicans are working on their version of ethics legislation.

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) and Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) Photos courtesy: Missouri House Communications.

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) has been talking about ethics legislation since August. He favors a bill that passed out of the 2010 legislative session, the language of which was thrown out by the state Supreme Court earlier this year because it was attached to an unrelated bill.

“I think there was a lot of commonality and a lot of bipartisanship in that bill that passed in 2010. I believe it was largely thrown out on a couple of technicalities by the court, and that’s an opportunity to go back and look at those things.”

One of the lawmakers involved in creating a Republican ethics proposal is Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City). His priority is requiring the disclosure of donors to nonprofit organizations who make political contributions.

“If some special interest group wants to spend half-a-million dollars on politics, the very least they owe to voters is to tell the voters who they are, and I think there’s universal agreement on that.”

That proposal is also found in the Democrats’ proposal. Barnes wants to keep that provision to its own bill, separate from other ethics issues.

“I’d prefer to see the bills separated out by individual idea so that the ideas that have backing on their own can get to the finish line rather than weighting a bill down with so many different things that you lose votes with every item that you add.”

The Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in both chambers, but Barnes says that doesn’t mean that Democrat proposals won’t be considered.

“In the legislature we need to look at ideas on their own merit, not by the letter of the person’s name who sponsors the bill.”

The Democrat proposal also would bar candidates from investing campaign donations in anything other than interest-bearing checking or savings accounts. That is in response to former house speaker Steven Tilley using campaign funds to buy shares in a bank.

Barnes says he does not think the proposal is a bad idea, but he says he’s not sure there’s anything wrong with investing campaign funds such as Tilley did.

“You could think of a candidate for statewide office, for instance the Attorney General (Chris Koster) who is likely to run for governor in four years, he has money in his account right now. Should the donors who give to that candidate be locked in to their money sitting in an account interest-free without the possibility to expand upon itself through savvy investments?”

The legislative session begins January 9.