Various ethics bills come before a House committee which is attempting to wade through the legislation in an effort to send one bill to the floor for debate.
Some of the bills would ban gifts from lobbyists. Others seek to reinstate campaign contribution limits.
Rep. Tim Flook (R-Liberty) told the Special Standing Committee on Government Accountability and Ethics Reform that no one can claim the higher ground on ethics.
“There is no political party in this state or in this country for that matter that is without sinners in the family,” Flook testified before the committee. “There is simply no one who can claim to be holier than thou.”
He and Rep. Jason Kander (D-Kansas City) sponsor HB 1434which would make it a felony to accept anything in exchange for a vote. Kander also pointed to a provision creating a new crime: obstructing an ethics investigation. He illustrated the need for such legislation by using the trouble of former Sen. Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis) and former Rep. Steve Brown (D-St. Louis) as an example.
“There’s been a lot of talk about Senator Smith and Representative Brown. What I want everyone on this committee to understand is that if Representative Brown and Senator Smith, former in both cases, if every single thing that they did, had they done it in state politics instead of in federal politics, it would have been entirely legal,” Kander said.
Smith is in prison for lying to federal investigators. Brown was placed on probation in the case.
Earlier, the committee heard testimony on two bills that would reinstate campaign contribution limits.
Rep. Gary Dusenberg (R-Blue Springs) proposes in HB 1337to cap single donations to a candidate for statewide office at $3,000; $1,500 for a candidate for state senate and $750 for a candidate for state representative. Dusenberg told the committee the lifting of limits created a sordid atmosphere in the Capitol.
“The last three years, because of the limits being removed, an environment has developed and its called pay to play and it concerns me,” Duseneberg testified. “Now, whether we want to admit to it or not this exists in the General Assembly and I hope everybody thinks about that when I say that. It exists. It’s all around us. And we can’t deny it.”
Rep. Rachel Bringer (D-Palmyra) also proposes to reinstate campaign contribution limits. Her HB 1326contains lower caps: $1,275 for a candidate for statewide office, $650 for a senate candidate and $325 for a candidate for state representative. Both Bringer and Dusenberg would limit the amount a political party could receive on behalf of its candidates.
Bringer also proposes a ban on gifts by lobbyists. When asked whether HB 1324 would prohibit someone from taking a gift as minor as a coffee mug from someone speaking to a lawmaker about legislation, she suggested they pay for the mug.
Bringer, though, pointed out the problem is much more serious than whether a lawmaker received a coffee mug from someone. Her research disclosed that 156 state representatives accepted gifts totalling more than $231,000 last year. Seven state representatives, including Bringer, didn’t accept any gifts from lobbyists. One lawmakers accepted more than $15,000 in gifts in 2009.
Most states have limits on lobbyist gifts, according to Bringer. She said three states ban lobbyist gifts altogether. Missouri would become the fourth under Bringer’s bill.
Many more ethics pieces have been filed. The special House committee hopes to hear them this week, and then begin working through all the bills in an effort to settle on one piece of legislation.