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Lobbyist Money Help  

Ethics Commission hires legislator's nephew

January 12, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 717, SB 718

JEFFERSON CITY - While searching for a new computer wizard to lead the troubling Missouri Ethics Commission, the selection committee was well aware that one of the top contenders was the nephew of the Senate Majority Leader.

"It was brought up that Mr. Hess was the nephew of Sen. DePasco, but it had no bearing on my decision," said Don Byrd, the Senate director of data processing.

After the resignation of Michael Mullett, who oversaw the computerized section of the Ethics Commission, the committee decided to hire Brian Hess, the nephew of Sen. Ronnie DePasco, D-Kansas City.

"He was picked solely based on credentials," said Chuck Lamb, the executive director for the Ethics Commission.

DePasco refused comment.

The Ethics Commission implements, stores, processes and maintains the campaign finance records of lawmakers and lobbyists. It has been under fire since the finance records have not been computerized for lawmakers, even though state law requires digital filing be completed by this month.

"I'm not going to assume that there is anything wrong just because Ronnie DePasco's nephew was hired," said Senate GOP Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles. "The only thing wrong would be if he got the job over more qualified people."

Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, has proposed two bills regarding the Ethics Commission. One would eliminate the possibility of public officials contacting the Ethics Commission about employment of individuals at the commission.

"I don't know how Mr. Hess could do anything in computers to affect what Sen. DePasco does," Byrd said. "You could have corruption under any set of circumstances. I don't see a major or any kind of problem."

The committee, consisting of the House of Representatives director of data processing, Cliff Gronauer, Byrd and Lamb, chose another applicant before Hess.

The first nominee did not want to relocate from Columbia to Jefferson City, and therefore was no longer interested, Byrd said. The committee then went back into the pool of candidates and interviewed other qualified nominees. In the meantime, Hess submitted his application.

"It was a god-sent that another applicant just as qualified sent in his application," Byrd said.

Hess holds a degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Missouri as well as several years of private sector experience. He will begin his new job on Jan. 24.

Schneider's other bill would make the Office of Administration in charge of computerizing campaign finance reports rather than continuing with the Ethics Commission.

"In 1992 we passed a bill to have financial reports put on computers," Schneider said. "We still don't have it done."

The Ethics Commission contracted SDR Technologies Inc. in West Lake Village, Calif., to develop a software program for the reporting of campaign finances.

"The problem is with the software vendor," Lamb said. "It is not for us to correct the problem."

Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield, helped pass a bill in 1996 that would let politicians file their campaign finance reports electronically.

"I can't support or oppose this bill," Backer said of the proposal to move responsibility to the Office of Administration. "I want to hear some reasons why we should simply move it to a new department rather than take care of the problems."

Backer also said she was concerned whether or not the state would be able to get out of the contract with SDR.