It’s no secret that Missouri has the most lax ethics laws for legislators in the country. Ours is the only state without limits on gifts, campaign contributions, or a reasonable waiting period before a legislator can become a paid lobbyist. For the past four months, we have worked to change that for the better.
In January, Speaker Todd Richardson made ethics a top priority and assigned all ethics bill to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, of which I am the chairman. In past years, we combined all of the ethics proposals into a single bill – and then watched it languish in the last month of session. A big, bulky target, it became easy prey for ethics reform opponents to quietly kill.
We took a different path this year. Instead of an omnibus bill, the House sent narrow single-subject ethics bills to the Senate. One of these bills has already passed. House Bill 1983, which prohibits legislators from cashing in on their service by being paid as campaign consultants for fellow members or candidates for statewide office, was signed by Gov. Nixon this Thursday.
Now, with four weeks left in session, there are four ethics bills are teed up for debate to be sent to the governor’s desk .
House Bill 2203, which I have sponsored, prohibits candidates (including incumbents) from using their campaign funds to purchase businesses or make other exotic investments. It also requires that, after an elected official has finished their service, they must dispose of their campaign funds before becoming a paid lobbyist. When emptying their former campaign account, a former member is limited to (1) giving refunds to donors, (2) donating the money to charity, or (3) transferring it to a political party committee. This part of the bill was added by the Senate and prevents former members from cashing in on their campaign funds in a later career as a lobbyist.
Finally, the bill prohibits candidates from converting campaign funds into personal use by transferring it to another committee and then receiving compensation from that committee. A conference committee agreed to the final language of the bill this week. And now it simply waits for action by both bodies.
House Bill 2226, which I have sponsored, closes a loophole in our state’s current self-dealing law. Self-dealing laws prevent those who serve in the public trust from profiting directly from their decisions in public service. Under federal law, persons appointed by executive agencies to provide advice and expertise are prohibited from self-dealing. Under current Missouri law, they are not. HB 2226 is awaiting Senate action, and I am confident that it will pass.
As agreed to by a conference committee, House Bill 1979 imposes a six month waiting period before former members of the General Assembly are permitted to become paid lobbyists. On Thursday, it passed the House 131 to 19. It now awaits Senate action.
Finally, House Bill 2166, as passed by the House, enacts a ban on lobbyist expenditures. The Senate debated it previously this session, but still awaits action. I am hopeful that the Senate, too, will pass it and send it to Gov. Nixon.
With just one month left, we have put them in the position to reach Gov. Nixon’s desk. And together, if all of these bills are passed, they will make a significant positive difference in the way your General Assembly operates.