October 31, 2014

NY Times explores relationship between Missouri AG Koster, lobbyists

A New York Times investigation into the lobbying of Attorneys General has focused a great deal on Missouri’s Attorney General.

Attorney General Chris Koster

Attorney General Chris Koster

The Times leads off by reporting that Attorney General Chris Koster halted an investigation of false claims by the makers of 5-Hour Energy drinks after a lobbyist for the company spoke to him at an event in California.

The Times reports that lobbyist’s firm, its clients and its partners have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Koster, a candidate for Missouri Governor in 2016, in some cases while his office was investigating those companies. He has also been included in public service ads sponsored by the firm and has spoken at public events it hosted.

Koster tells the Times he felt the suit lacked merit and denies that contributions or relationships prompted any of his office’s decisions that appear to benefit the firm’s clients.

House Speaker Tim Jones has issued a statement calling the situations outlined in the article “egregious” and saying he is looking into how the House can investigate the findings of the article.

Read the Times’ article here

Nearly 200 apply in one week for Ferguson Commission

The response to Governor Jay Nixon’s call for the formation of a Ferguson Commission has been strong.

Governor Jay Nixon (courtesy; UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Governor Jay Nixon (courtesy; UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

By Tuesday morning, one week after Nixon announced the commission, 199 people had applied online to be a member. Nixon wants the group to look at the “challenges that were exposed and exacerbated by the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath, and offer specific recommendations for overcoming them.”

By the weekend, Nixon’s office tweeted that the response was “overwhelming.” His official Twitter feed added that he is, “Inspired by St. Louisans’ willingness to step up and serve.”

Nixon told reporters that the commission would have about 15 members, whose selection would be announced in November.

Those who want to apply can do so on the state’s website.

Earlier story: Nixon:  new ‘Ferguson Commission’ will seek lessons from unrest

Study: Missouri government discriminates (AUDIO)

A lengthy study concludes discrimination on the basis of race or gender continues in state government’s choice of companies getting contracts with the state.

A supplemental budget bill passed out of the State House on Thursday would spend $50 million on the Missouri State Capital, and put money toward renovation of the Department of Transportation Building (foreground).  (Photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

The Missouri State Capitol (Photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

The study has looked at fourteen different kinds of contracts the state issues for everything from groceries to building construction. Ten percent of the contracts are supposed to go to minority-owned business enterprises and five percent are to go to women-owned businesses, either as the prime contractors or as subcontractors.

View the study here

The head of the state Office of Administration, Doug Nelson, says the study shows some jobs are too big for smaller companies, often owned by minorities or women, to bid on.

“We’re going to be looking at how we offer the contract, ” he says. “There are too many contracts that are bundled together. Can they be broken apart?”

The state also is going to look at bonding requirements, which many small businesses have trouble meeting. The study says the state also needs to set aside some contracts just for small businesses, work with other agencies on mentoring programs, and develop some new performance standards to measure progress. It also suggests the state work to eliminate a perception by other firms and government agencies that women-and-minority-owned businesses are not competent to do the work.

Nelson hopes a special oversight committee will recommend changes in about six months.

AUDIO: interview 12:05

Missouri House races headline next week’s election

With no contested statewide races up next week, the key question in the general election is whether Republicans can maintain their state legislative supermajorities.

Majority Floor Leader John Diehl (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The likely next Speaker of the Missouri House, John Diehl, hopes to lead a Supermajority of Republicans in that chamber for the next two years.  (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans hold enough seats in each chamber to overturn a governor’s veto without any help from Democrats, but losing just two seats could make a big difference according to University of Missouri Political Science Professor Peverill Squire.

“If they lose that leverage then it puts them in a position where they have to deal more with the governor and take his preferences into some account,” Squire explains.

So, says Squire, holding that supermajority means wielding a great deal of political power.

“We saw in this last session of the General Assembly that when the Republicans have a supermajority and they have cohesion among their members, they can achieve most of their policy goals and that’s a fairly dramatic change from sort of the normal course of events,” says Squire.

Whether that supermajority will last could come down to races in as few as two districts.

“It could tip one way or the other based a turnout of relatively a few voters,” says Squire.

The professor says Missouri Democrats are focusing campaign dollars on select races hoping to break that supermajority. That includes Governor Jay Nixon, who has contributed $75,000.

Squire says the outcome of the House races has particular significance for Nixon.

“A governor who is a lame duck – he can’t run for re-election – is already in a weak position,” says Squire. “The prospect for Jay Nixon is if he’s facing a supermajority once again for his final two years, it really makes him less relevant than he would normally be.”

Squire believes Republicans are unlikely to lose their supermajority in the state Senate, and the GOP is focused not just on holding legislative supermajorities, but growing them.

Gephardt sees Congressional hostilities softening (AUDIO)

A former Missouri Congressman who ran for President twice thinks time will restore Congress to a productive level after several acrimonious years.

Richard Gephardt now heads his own lobbying company in Washington after 26 years representing part of St. Louis in the House, six as Majority Leader and eight years as a Minority Leader.

He says the unpopularity of Congress is not new and says it’s usually unpopular because getting a majority of 535 people to agree on major issues can generate a lot of controversy.

Gephardt thinks the condition has been worsened by voters angry about the recession. “A lot of people lose their jobs, lose their house, lose their pension,” he says. “They get angry, understandably, and they tend to send people to represent them who are equally angry and having made up their mind ‘that these are the answers’ and ‘it’s going to be my way or the highway.'”

He says  many of those members are leaving or are becoming more likely to compromise. He says he’s an optimist who thinks Congress will get back to a more normal situation between the chambers and within the chambers and in relations with the President, whoever it might become.

But, Gephardt says, decision-making will never be easy in Congress

Gephardt joined former House Speaker Dennis Hastert during a seminar in Washington.

AUDIO: Gephardt, Hastert 7:25