Organization skeptical after Missouri lobbyist gift numbers released
JEFFERSON CITY - Data from the Missouri Ethics Commission revealed Missouri lawmakers as a whole received fewer gifts from lobbyists in 2014 than in 2015. However, the executive director of the commission said it may not be that lawmakers are actually receiving fewer gifts, but receiving gifts in ways that go unreported under current Missouri law.
Progress Missouri is a progressive advocacy organization. The group organized the data from the Missouri Ethics Commission to chart which lawmakers received the most. Progress Missouri Communications Director Kevin Garner said Missouri's ethics laws need improvement.
"Unfortunately, Missouri has probably the worst ethic laws in the country right now," Garner said.
Currently in Missouri there is no cap on how much money lobbyists can spend on lawmakers. Garner said the data doesn't necessarily reveal that lawmakers are receiving fewer gifts, but that there is fewer reports of gifts.
"While we would wish it's because there is a decision to have and receive less lobbyists gifts, which possibly could be true, unfortunately that's also part of the problem with Missouri's lobbyists laws and the lack of transparency. There is a variety of ways to get around reporting gifts or kind of covering up receiving gifts," Garner said.
Currently if a lawmaker pays back a lobbyist from either his or her personal account of his or her campaign account, it will still show up as receiving zero dollars. Also, if a lobbyist gives the gift to a whole committee or the entire legislature, the individual doesn't have to report it.
KOMU 8 News investigated lobbyist gifts and reporting in a Target 8 report prior to the 2015 session.
There are many ethics reform bills on the 2016 legislative agenda in Missouri.
"Some of the items being discussed right now in Missouri are putting for example either a cap on lobbyist gifts to individual members of the General Assembly and other public officials or perhaps even outright banning gifts. That would be a pretty significant step for Missouri because right now our laws do not cap how much a lobbyist can expend upon a legislator," said the Missouri Ethics Commission Executive Director James Klahr.
The Missouri House heard two ethics bills Tuesday. One would prohibit elected officials from investing campaign funds in anything except short-term treasury instruments or short-term bank certificates, and the other would impose requirements for personal financial disclosure and restrictions on conflicts of interest to private advisers of executive branch appointed by the governor.
KOMU 8 News reached out to several lawmakers about the issue Tuesday afternoon, but none responded to requests for comment.
KOMU 8 News is working to independently analyze the numbers from the state and will update this story with findings.