Attorney General and House Republican lay out steps to change Missouri's ethics laws
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Attorney General and House Republican lay out steps to change Missouri's ethics laws

Date: December 8, 2014
By: Steven Anthony
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A hearing that was originally going to focus on allegations of wrongdoing against Attorney General Chris Koster quickly became a discussion on how lawmakers should tighten the state's ethics laws.

Koster defended himself against a New York Times story that alleged he dropped lawsuits or didn't join lawsuits in exchange for political contributions.

Koster specifically addressed his office not pursuing a lawsuit against the energy supplement company Five Hour Energy.

"The right decision does not become the wrong decision simply because a lobbyist was part of a discussion," Koster said.

Speaking at the special House investigative committee on Monday, Koster said the legislature ought to make themselves subject to tougher ethics laws.

"First, we should lower the 48-hour reporting requirement from five thousand dollars to two thousand five hunderds dollars," Koster said. "Second, we should ban lobbyist gifts to public officials, a pledge I myself have now taken."

Koster also asked lawmakers to eliminate so-called "dark money."

Dark money is money donated to a particular legislative candidate that is not subject to public disclosure.

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, also testified at the hearing about the need to restrict special interest money in Missouri politics.

He outlined a series of proposals, one of which is similar to Koster's.

Rowden also discussed the need to curb dark money and said the legislature has a way of doing so.

"Our plan to do this is through increased reporting for any organization that spends a certain percentage of their overall budget on political activity," Rowden said.

Among Rowden's other proposals is to have any House committee dinner held outside the statehouse approved by the House Accounts committee chairman and have a notice of 72 hours, institute a 1-year cooling off period before a lawmaker can become a lobbyist, and prohibit the governor and his/her staff from offering someone an executive position in exchange for a vote on something the governor wants.

Koster did not mention any of Rowden's proposals, but he did take on Rowden's colleagues as it applies to the Missouri Sunshine Law.

"Legislators remain the only officials in our government who refuse to turn over documents to the public and the media when you are 'sunshined,'" Koster said. "This type of secrecy should end. How can you seriously extol the virtues of transparent government, but at the same time, hold yourselves above such scrutiny?"

Rowden said he has talked with incoming House Speaker John Diehl and incoming Majority Leader Todd Richardson about the ethics proposals.

"I have been given a great amount of assurance that we will push a number of these bills early in our process in 2015 and give us plenty of time to sidestep many protential problems and get us to the point where we can say that we passed ethics reform in this session," Rowden said.

The 2015 legislative session convenes on Wednesday, January 7.9999

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