A northeast Missouri lawmaker says allowing Bass Pro Shops to borrow artifacts from the Missouri State Museum and make a donation to the state parks foundation “looks like pay to play”.

Representative Jay Houghton (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Jay Houghton (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

State Parks director Bill Bryan testified Thursday before the Missouri House Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. Bryan testified that six artifacts from the Missouri State Museum in Jefferson City were loaned to the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum in Ridgedale.

Bryan says he would have loaned the artifacts with or without a donation. Bass Pro Shops’ CEO Johnny Morris reportedly made a $50,000 donation to the state parks foundation last year. State Rep. Jay Houghton (R-Martinsburg) addressed Bryan at Thursday’s hearing.

“Maybe I’m stepping out of line,” says Houghton. “But there’s kind of been big talk about pay-to-play, and that’s sure what this looks like. I personally don’t like it, and I think there’s a whole lot of other people that don’t like it either.”

The hearing follows an October article by “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” columnist Tony Messenger, which said that Bass Pro’s CEO talked about making a $50,000 donation to the state parks foundation, while asking to borrow several artifacts for his museum.

Bryan defended DNR’s decision, during his testimony.

“These artifacts remain in storage here in Jefferson City where no one can see them, or we put them on display pursuant to a loan agreement at a museum where Missourians and others can enjoy them and appreciate their history,” Bryan says.

Bryan also told lawmakers that it’s a fairly common practice for the Missouri State Museum to loan artifacts to other museums.

“We document those loans in a loan agreement that specifies the length of time, the duration of the loan and the conditions that we expect for the loan,” says Bryan.

Bryan says DNR has been working to “professionalize” the process, noting some artifacts have been on-loan to museums for decades. State Rep. Craig Redmon (R-Canton), who chairs that Appropriations Committee, has requested a list of museums that DNR has loaned artifacts to. Bryan says he’ll get that list for legislators.

After Houghton’s comments, Bryan discussed Bass Pro.

“But this was an opportunity to partner with a good corporate citizen here in the state that we partner with on a lot of activities, whether it’s Outdoor Days or the Wonders of the Outdoor World outdoor school, any number of things that we partner with them for many years,” Bryan says.

Bryan testifies three Civil War flags have been returned to the State Museum and that three additional flags are on-loan until April.

In the October “Post” story, the Missouri State Museum’s curator of collections told Messenger she hopes to keep anything similar from happening again.