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Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»COL11.MDH - Lawmakers Rush Legislation to Protect Citizens From Lawmakers
In the opening hubris of this year's legislation session, Missouri lawmakers have touted ethics legislation as a top priority. Amid the scramble to shoot "ethics" bills through committee and out to the floor, the irony seems lost that they've decreed that Job No. 1 for lawmakers is protecting Missouri citizens from, well, lawmakers.
This rush for ethics legislation comes under new leadership in both chambers, following last year's session in which the Republican speaker of the House and later a top Democrat in the Missouri Senate were forced to resign under allegations of improper behavior involving female interns. Further, top Republican in the Senate resigned -- not under scandal -- but to take a job lobbying for an organization financed by one of the state's wealthiest political contributors.
Among the first measures passed by the House this year is a bill to address this revolving door of lawmakers who jump across the desk to become lobbyists, or who become political consultants while still in office. While the bill is being rushed, it's a different matter on the fix itself -- a "cooling off" period before the duly elected become the duly influential. The bill wouldn't take effect until after the 2016 elections, exempting current lawmakers from its restrictions until re-elected.
Another advancing measure would require lawmakers going on lobbyist-funded out-of-state junkets to report the trips within 30 days. Yet another would require financial disclosure statements twice a year instead of once.
None of the bills first rushed through deal with the main issue that has fueled the latest flames for ethics reform: sex scandal. But some interesting proposals have been floated.
During the interim, one solution offered was to establish a dress code for college interns. It didn't make the final cut of a new policy, but reps now must sit through what one Missouri daily described as a 47-page PowerPoint presentation on sexual harassment.
Another measure introduced this session, apparently to shed some transparency on activities usually conducted in private, is a bill that would require lobbyists to disclose if they have sex with lawmakers. Exceptions are provided if the lawmaker happens to be married to the lobbyist, or if the trysts began before the bill were to become law.
While disclosure would be required, unlike other gifts from lobbyists a financial value would not have to be assigned to the "gift."
Now, I'm sure there are some pundits out there already joking that this bill will simply require a reporting of lobbyists doing to politicians what politicians too often do to us, the public, However, the lack of an assigned value raises some questions. First, if it involved no value, why report it? Second, if there was a value, how would such a thing be determined?
For an answer, I turned to an economist. He explained that typically, in economic modeling, one could consider the "opportunity cost." This is the cost of taking that action that would not be incurred if the action was not taken.
Looking back on some the legislators who got in trouble in this type of thing, that cost can be pretty expensive. One House speaker faced criminal charges after he allegedly beat up a partner in an S&M encounter because she didn't utter the safe word "green balloons." He hit rock bottom shortly thereafter and hasn't held public office since.
Given that lawmakers spend sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to win elective office, those such as the last speaker, who was forced to resign because of sexually suggestive emails to an intern, the loss would be financially, and I am sure personally, staggering.
And of course, there's the question of integrity. Shakespeare wrote that if you steal a man's purse, you steal nothing. But if you steal his reputation, you steal everything. What's the price of a lawmaker's reputation -- his integrity? With all this rush for ethics reform, perhaps we will know by the end of this year's legislative session... one way or another.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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