More ethics reform legislation is advancing in the state House.
The House has given initial approval to bills to ban gifts from lobbyists to legislators, to limit how long campaign funds can be invested and how they can be used, and to keep people appointed to task forces and commissions from profiting from the recommendations they make.
Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) said federal law already prevents so-called “self-dealing” by task force and commission appointees, but there is no prohibition in state law.
“These appointees sometimes have tremendous authority. Their actions can lead to the spending of millions and, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars,” said Barnes. “Without this self-dealing prohibition these same people appointed to positions of public trust can turn around and make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars off of the very same recommendations they made in a position of public trust.”
Representative Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) sponsored the lobbyist gift ban bill. He said it is an attempt to eliminate undue influence that could come from gifts such as sporting event tickets.
“It is good public policy of this state to make sure that the only thing that is being exchanged between a lobbyist and a member of the General Assembly is dialog and the free flow of ideas,” said Alferman. “I have never heard a compelling reason why we should allow this practice to go any further.”
House Democrats continue to call the Republican measures “baby steps” – bills that they support, but that don’t go far enough.
“We talk about the point of this bill and other bills moving through the ethics process is to restore the public’s trust,” said Representative Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City). “I can’t honestly imagine that we’ll go back to our districts and say, ‘I did this little thing or I did that little thing,’ and the constituents that I talk with that distrust public officials right now are going to turn to me and say, ‘and not having anything on campaign contribution limits – that’s supposed to restore my trust?'”
Legislative Democrats and Democratic Governor Jay Nixon want such contribution limits to be reinstated. Republicans say such limits in the past resulted in contributions being funneled through various committees, making very difficult the process of determining who the donor was.
Those bills are expected to be sent to the Senate by the end of this week.