Proposed limits on gifts that lobbyists can offer to legislators and statewide elected officials have sailed through two Missouri House committees and goes to the chamber floor on Wednesday. On the legislature’s opening day last week, House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, says restricting such gifts is one of his top priorities this year. He said he expects his chamber to vote on the measure this week and the bill could head to the Senate on Thursday.
State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, says his legislation would still allow lobbyists to buy flowers and plants and a dinner that every legislator is invited to, such as “The Taste of Jefferson City”. House Democrats, including St. Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-Olivette), question several provisions in the bill, including one that is meant to restrict the cost of gifts still allowed under the legislation – like plaques and awards.
“What I’m trying to do is make sure by fixing one thing we’re not opening up another opportunity for abuse where all of a sudden things are considered to be awards,” says McCreery.
Alferman says the proposal is an improvement from current Missouri law, which has no limits to the gifts that lobbyists can offer elected officials.
“Honestly, Representative, in dealing with this type of ethics reform it’s always going to be whack-a-mole,” Alferman tells McCreery. “Anyone who is decisively trying to circumvent ethics laws is already an unethical person and it’s really hard to be able to think about every which way those type of individuals are going to circumvent the law. I’m trying to capture the 98% of problems that will be alleviated with this bill.”
Under the bill, members would have to have at least 72-hours notice before an event like a dinner is held and the gathering must be in Missouri.
“I just don’t want us to get into a ‘gotcha’ moment for going to something like a Missouri Chamber dinner or something of that nature that we’ve all been invited to,” says Alferman. “I don’t think anyone’s going to say that there’s an influence being levied at those large events. You don’t have the one-on-one interaction like you do if a lobbyist takes you out for a dinner where 100% of their focus is on you.”
The measure passed unanimously out of one committee yesterday and had one dissenting vote in the other.
Last year, a similar measure Alferman sponsored was the first bill passed out of his chamber 149-5 but has not received much attention in the Senate in previous years.
A ballot measure that could make it to the November election would, among other things, restrict lobbyist gifts to legislators to $5 or less and lower campaign contribution limits to $2,500 for State Senate candidates and $2,000 for State House candidates.