Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL090.PRB - Rain Making in Government and Politics«MDNM»
Another petition campaign has been launched in the long history of ballot issues to restrict government officials from using their offices to get money.
Some of the biggest ethical steps in changing the rainmaking culture of state government have required Missouri voters to take charge after inaction by the General Assembly.
Prior to the early 1970s, there was no requirement for disclosure of campaign contributions. That changed with a petition campaign was launched after legislators rejected Gov. Kit Bond's call for tougher ethics laws.
It came after an extensive federal investigation into the role of special-interest money in the administration of prior Gov. Warren Hearnes.
Hearnes had been elected as a reformer. He eliminated the requirement that some state workers pay a percentage of their salaries, called lugs, to the governor's campaign war chest.
Hearnes replaced it with his annual birthday bash. It still generated money, but ticket purchases were voluntary.
Legislators followed suit selling tickets for their own birthday parties. For a few legislators, their Capitol offices seemed to me to be like ticket windows, with staff openly selling tickets to lobbyists.
Another trick for rainmaking involved committees whose members got campaign contributions from special interests with issues before the committees. House Speaker Richard Rabbitt went to federal prison for charges involving extorting funds to assign a bill to one of those committees.
I learned a lot about the integrity of Columbia's Rep. Chris Kelly after his experience in being selected to what I considered to be a rainmaker committee.
Kelly landed some key committee assignments, but he also was named to what he thought was an insignificant committee on professional licensing. I did know Kelly well enough at the time to tell him it also was a plum assignment.
Its members got contributions from the long list of professions regulated by bills handled by the committee.
A day later, Kelly returned to my office to tell me he had declined the appointment. I sensed he had learned about the nature of the committee.
For me, that day began a continuing admiration I have about Kelly's ethics and the depth of his understanding about this process.
Birthday tickets no longer are sold in legislative offices. In fact, I cannot recall the last time I heard about a paid-admission birthday party for a legislator at the Capitol.
And since then, Missourians approved another ballot issue to restrict how much you can contribute to a candidate.
But Missouri's legislature subsequently repealed that provision.
And they found a way to get around the requirement that lobbyists disclose the names of legislators getting their gifts.
The trick was to establish a caucus to be wined and dined by the lobbyist. Then only the caucus had to be listed in the lobbyist's expenditure report -- not the individual members.
Today, formal legislative committees are also used as a vehicle.
In one way, it is more transparent because, unlike caucuses, committee memberships easily are available on the legislature's website.
But you still cannot find out the names of those who actually benefited. Just the committee name is listed in the lobbyist's expenditure report.
It's become so common that the state's Ethics Commission has created a separate search category on its website to retrieve lobbyist expenditures for legislative committees.
There's another aspect of this.
Formal meetings of legislative committees are supposed to be open to the public. But occasionally, a committee has made public access a bit more difficult by scheduling a formal meeting at the members-only Jefferson City country club -- at dinner time.
A few years ago, I sent one of my reporters to the country club to test public access. She got in, but only after arguing with the reception desk.
Inside she saw no public business being conducted -- just members enjoying their drinks and meals.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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