Measures to largely do away with lobbyist gifts to lawmakers are being considered in the state legislature.
Republican Governor Eric Greitens campaigned largely on ethics reform and eliminating corruption, and continues to focus on those issues in office.
A Senate proposal to reign in lobbyist gifts along with a similar measure already approved by the House were revieved by a Senate panel Tuesday.
Republican Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City chairs the committee. He doesn’t think gift giving exists at a level which would compromise lawmakers in Jefferson City, but still thinks the legislation is necessary.
“I think perception is reality” said Kehoe. “And I think part of this is trying to clear up the public perception that there’s somebody influencing elected officials with gifts.”
Kehoe added he’s never accepted a gift and doesn’t think the practice is being abused by his colleagues. “I don’t have a problem with senators or representatives who do take a dinner or something. I don’t have a problem with those folks because I know most of them. I have never seen one them do it for reasons that seem shaky to me.”
Democratic Senator Jason Holsman of Kansas City agrees that lawmakers aren’t being corrupted by gift giving. He thinks a lack of transparency caused by dark money hidden behind unreported contributions to non-profit groups, such as those used by Governor Greitens himself, is the real problem.
“That is what we need to be focusing our attention on” said Holsman. “Lobbyists gifts bans are fine. I support it. I’m going to vote in favor of it. But I don’t want the public to be deceived that by making this fix we’re going to solve the problem.”
Both Kehoe and Holsman acknowledge Amendment 2, which voters passed in November, would seem to be doing a good job in reigning in direct donations.
Amendment 2 restricts individual campaign donations to $2,600 for candidates and $25,000 to political party committees per election. Previously, an unlimited amount of money was allowed in campaigns.
But there are complaints the Amendment has loopholes. In its current form, Amendment 2 fails to place any restrictions on outside political groups, which raise unlimited funds. Some of the groups which are registered as 501C4 organizations don’t even have to identify their donors.
Holsman said “Amendment 2 did not address the dark money of who is giving to 501C4’s that are having direct independent expenditures and direct contributions to campaigns”.
Holsman thinks Governor Greitens campaign and brief tenure in office have been highlighted by his use of dark money, both through the 501C4 which financed his inaugural events, and the $1.9 million campaign contribution he received from a donor who has yet to be revealed. “One of the largest campaigns in the state’s history is anonymous. That’s is what we need to be focusing our attention on” said Holsman.
As far as the legislation in the Senate committee to ban lobbyist gifts, Kehoe says the aim now is to combine the measure passed by the House with the Senate proposal into legislation lawmakers can sent to Greiten.
Among the differences between the two pieces of legislation, the House version prohibits gifts of any value while the Senate plan allows $10 worth. Also, the House bill permits lawmakers to receive honorariums such as plaques and awards as long as they don’t exceed $200 in value, while the Senate proposal caps those items at $50.
The House passed a gift ban last year, but the effort stalled in the Senate.