Navigating The Lobbyist Spending Site
First, select the year you want to search. Then, the category of the search (statewide officials, Senate members, House members, groups, lobbyists or clients -- see below for details of the categories).
Once a category for the search as been selected, the selection-box to the right will be filled, in alphabetical order, with all the different names found for expenditure reports filed under the category you selected. The names in the list box will be simplified and combined to facilitate search selecitons (see below).
Once you have selected a specific entry (official, group, lobbyist or client) all the expenditure reports in which that selection was found will be displayed at the top.
If you would like to see the actual fields of the Missouri Ethics Commission expenditure report, simply double click the item of interest.
At the bottom of the category list will be a Seek option that lets you enter a name or part of a name for which a search will be conducted for both the official field and the recipient field of each record.
This search function is provided for those two fields because of the wide disparity in how lobbyists identify local officials and government officials who are not employees of government officials. It prevents creating the type of lists available for other categories.
MDN's databases on lobbyist expenditure reports are constructed from information filed by lobbyists with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC).
Each expenditure report includes the amount expended, the date the expenditure was made, the actual recipient (if not the public official) and an explanation of the expenditure.
Thousands of reports expenditures are filed each year by nearly thousand registered lobbyists. There is no independent verification of the information reported. And here, at MDN, we have discovered quite a few errors.
Programs used to construct MDN's database seek to correct those errors, when possible and to provide consistency in the names of the public officials listed. In some cases, fields have been combined to make the MDN display more user friendly. See the Notes section below for details.
MDN's data covers lobbyist expenditures for elected state officials (statewide office holders and legislators) as well as legislative groups. Between 20 to 30 percent of lobbyist expenditures go to others such as unelected government and and local officials.
Unfortunately, many of these entries provide little or no information about the governmental entity nor the recipient's governmental unit. Some have just a name without a clue as to the governmental agency or the recipient's position.
- Official: Recipient: Missouri law requires lobbyist report any expenditure made for a public official, the public official's staff or immediate family (such as spouse or children).
MEC's database, contains two fields for the recipient. One is for the public official's name and another field with the actual recipient(s) of the expenditure, if not the public official. If the public official was the recipient, the recipient field is left blank.
In the MDN display, the public official's name and/or title is listed first. If a different recipient is listed (such as the public officials staffer(s) and/or family member(s), the official's name/title will be followed by a colon and the recipient.
In some cases, however, the public official designated as the recipient is not the only actual person getting the benefits of the lobbyist's expenditure. For example, when there is a large amount of hundreds of dollars spent by a lobbyist for a meal, it may have been the lobbyist picking up the tab paid by the legislator for food provided to a group lunch or dinner hosted by the public official.
- Lobbyist: This is the name of the registered lobbyist who filed the expenditure report.
- Client: This is the lobbyist's client for whom the lobbyist made the expenditure. In the law, this is termed "principle."
- Date: Desc.: This is a combination of four MEC fields with each field separated by a colon. First is the date the expenditure was made. Next is the expenditure category (such as meal, gift, travel, etc.). The final field is a more detailed description of the expenditure provided by the lobbyist. Note, however, in many reports this field is left blank. Finally, if a report has been amended, an explanation for the change will be included.
- $ Spent: This is the cash value or actual expenditure reported by the lobbyist. The amount is adjusted by any subsequent amendments filed by the lobbyist (see below).
- Type: The first letter in this field is whether the lobbyist report was filed as an expenditure for an individual public official (I), an expenditure solicited by the official (S) or an expenditure for a group of public officials (G).
The second letter in MDN's type field will be the letter A if the report subsequently was amended. If amended, the record displayed will be the amended record with an explanation for the change included in the description field.
Several amended reports will show a $0.00 for the amount for reasons such as the public official reimbursing the lobbyist, claiming to not have partaken of the benefit or the lobbyist claimed to have incorrectly entered the public official as receiving the benefit.
Display Functions at the Bottom
- Office Year: This will set display of officials/legislators and lobbyists for the office year you selected. The office year selection will set the public-official list to the public officials in office that year. It also will update the list of lobbyists, lobbyist clients and legislative groups that existed in the office year you selected.
Note, choosing an office year different from the seek year can have an unexpected consequence. That's because MDN's database for names includes both the name, but also the office held by the official in the seek year. So, for example, if you selected to display lobbyist expenditures for 2018, but selected 2020 as the office your, you'll discover there are no expenditures for Mike Parson.
That's because in 2018, Parson was a lieutenant governor. But in 2020, Parson was a governor. And, there were no lobbyist expenditures for Gov. Mike Parson, but there were expenditures for Lt. Gov. Mike Parson.
So, to assure accurate information for an official, the office year and search year should be the same.
- Category: Search is done by a category that you pick that help's narrow down the search selection. There are six search categories. Selecting a category will cause the following selection box to be filled with the names found in that category.
- Statewide: State government officials elected statewide.
- Senate: Members of the Missouri Senate.
- House: Members of the Missouri House.
- Groups: Legislative groups for which expenditures were made. See below for the note on the limitations of information for group expendiures.
- Lobbyists: The list of lobbyists who have reported at least one expenditure.
- Clients: The list of the different clients for which lobbyists filed expenditure reports.
- Seek: This will open an entry box for you to enter the name or part of a name that will be used to search for records containing what you have entered in the official field and recipient field of the lobbyist reports.
You may notice that there is not a search category for local officials. The reason is that we have almost no consistency in how lobbyists identify local officials. Often there is no title. Rarely is the name of the local government identified. As a result, there simply is no way to build a list of search phrases that would have any meaning as we can for state officials. legislative groups, clients and lobbyists.
Also not categorized for a search are expenditures made a government employee who is not the staffer of a specific elected public official -- such legislative door keepers and committee staffers. Like local officials, there is not enough consistency in how these people are identified to establish a category search.
Although there is no categorized search for local officials or non-official staffers, the actual expenditures will be listed when you search for reports by lobbyists or for lobbyist clients.
- Get: The selection box to the right of this label will contain a list of specific names found under the search-category you selected. Excluded from the list will be those for whom there is no lobbyist expenditure reported -- such as legislators who got no expenditure or registered lobbyists who did not report any expenditures.
Once a recipient is selected, the total amount of lobbyist expenditures for that search will be listed.
Below that summary, the individual expenditure reports will be displayed in the list box.
- Seek Year: This is the year for which lobbyist expenditures are displayed. See the note on the Office Year selection for unintended consequences if you select a different seek year from the office year.
- Rank: Clicking the Rank button will display a ranked list of the category selected -- statewide officials, legislators, groups, lobbyists or clients.
Note, that displaying the ranking of lobbyists or clients will cover every expenditure reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission -- including expenditures for local elected officials and for government staffers who do not work for elected officials (which ranges between 20 to 30 the total lobbyist expenditures for a year.
At the top of the list in the ranking-display window will be four buttons you can click to change the order of the list (rank, amount, title and name). When the window is first opened, the display will be in rank order with the official or group getting the largest amount of lobbyist expenditures listed first with a rank of #1.
View the Entire MEC Report
To view the full report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission for a particular entry, simply double-click the entry.
That will pop up a display of every field in MEC's database for a lobbyist expenditure.
These fields were compressed substantially in 2019. Starting that year, there were
-- 14 fields for individual public official expenditures or 13 fields for group expenditures -- in the order in which they appear in MEC's database:
- Lobbyist ID: The unique ID assigned to a registered lobbyist.
- First Name: The lobbyist's first name.
- Last Name: The lobbyist's last name.
- Report Month: The month in which the report was filed.
- Official: The public official for whom the expenditure was made. This field will be blank if the public official was the recipient. Not displayed for expenditures for groups.
- Recipient: The actual public offical sometimes followed by a staffer or relative of the official who received the lobbyist expenditure. For expenditure for governmental groups (such as the entire General Assembly) ths will contain the group's name, but not public officials in the group who benefited from the lobbyist espenditure.
- Principal (Client): The client of the lobbyist for whom the expenditure was made.
- Expenditure Type: The category of the lobbyist expenditure such as "Meals, Food & Beverage" or "Entertainment."
- Expenditure Date: The date the lobbyist expenditure was made.
- Expenditure Amount: The monetary value of the lobbyist expenditure. Negative figures may appear in an amendment report indicating the amount of reported in the original report should be reduced by the negative number entered in this field.
- Amended: Yes or No. If yes, it may include an explanation for the amendment or the explanation may be included in the description.
- Description: Any further explanation, if any, the lobbyist provided about the nature of the expenditure.
- Verson From and Version To: Not sure what these fields indicate.
- Prior to to 2019, lobbyist handled amended reports quite differently. The original report remained in the data base, but was referenced in a separate report amending the original report.
Because of that change, there may be no indication about the original explanation, date or amount cited in the original report.
For expenditures with a $0.0 expenditure, that almost certainly is an amended report that removed any expenditure for the recipient.
- It is difficult to exaggerate the nightmare one encounters in trying to bring order to the thousands of separate expenditure reports filed by lobbyists. Often legislators are listed under the generic "Public Official" category rather than the correct "Representative" or "Senator" category. Even worse, the recipient named in a report sometimes is different from the public official's actual name. Occasionally names are misspelled. Less frequently, we've encountered entries that appear to be an attempt to hide the actual public official recipient by simply citing the district number rather than the required name or just citing a last name with no first name or title of the official.
- One complexity in making sense of the lobbyist expenditure reports is the wide variety of ways lobbyists would identify the same client for whom an expenditure was made.
Some client names were misspelled. The misspellings and incorrect wording for clients names suprised us since these lobbyists are being paid by those companies. You'd think they'd get the names of their clients correct. Some expenditures used an improper company name, followed by some sort of DBA ending (meaning "doing business as").
Our MDN database application groups under a common name when the actual client is obvious. For example, "AMEREN" is displayed as the client for expenditures listed under "UNION ELECTRIC." For apparent typos in a client name, we went on line to make sure the incorrect name did not actually exist.
The ranking display of expenditures by clients and the drop-down list of clients use those shorter, corrected names. But in the display of individual expenditures, name under client will be MDN's corrected name followed by what actually was entered by the lobbyist as the client.
At MDN we have written literally hundreds of lines of code to attempt to include for a public official every lobbyist expenditure reported for that official when the recipient is obvious. But, in the spirit of journalism, we have not included under a public official's lobbyist expenditures any entry for which the public official is not absolutely clear. In other words, we've followed the basic standard of journalism -- "if in doubt, don't report it."
- Several times, we at MDN have discovered a lobbyist expenditure reported on behalf of a legislator who had left office one or more years earlier. Those reports are included, but it is impossible to tell if the expenditure actually was made on behalf of the legislator who replaced the person in the report or the expenditure actually was for the person named, although since the person had left office no lobbyist expenditure report was required.
- In even-numbered years, MEC maintains lobbyist expenditure reports for legislators elected to office in November, but who will not take office until January of the next year. These reports are not included in MDN's display for public officials since, technically, they are not public officials until they take office.
- In addition to expenditures made for specific public officials, a lobbyist can list a legislative group as the recipient. It can be a committee, caucus or the entire General Assembly. Unfortunately, these group reports do not indicate which legislators actually eat the meals or accepted the gifts. One year, for example, an out-of-state trip which listed the entire legislature as the group whose travel costs were covered by the lobbyist, only a few lawmakers actually took the trip.
"Clean Missouri" Effects
In 2018, Missouri voters approved the "Clean Missouri" ballot issue that included sever restrictions on lobbyist expenditures.
Effective 2018, the law imposed a $5 limit on a public official from the receiving a lobbyist expenditure.
The limit is annually inflation adjusted. Also, the limit does not put a limit on the number of seperate expenditures a public officials can receive from a lobbyist.
Also, the limit does not cover local officals.
Also, lobbyist expenditures that were solicited by public officials ceased completely.