TARGET 8: 75% of lobbying gifts not shown in lawmakers' records

2 years 11 months 2 weeks ago Tuesday, December 02 2014 Dec 2, 2014 Tuesday, December 02, 2014 3:55:00 PM CST December 02, 2014 in Target 8
By: Michael Doudna and Zack Newman, KOMU 8 Reporters
loading

COLUMBIA - In an environment full of partisan politics, a systematic issue for both parties is receiving gifts from lobbyists.

Throughout the last 24 months, lobbyists and organizations spent $1.8 million on gifts for Missouri lawmakers.

Missouri is the only state that puts no restriction on how much and on what type of gifts lobbyists can give lawmakers. As the rule stands now, the only requirement is that it is reported, so the public can see.

THE ISSUE

Lobbyists report how much money they gave the gifts and to whom those gifts were given. Lawmakers report how much money, and from whom, they received in gifts. The report is published on the lawmakers' page on the Missouri Ethics Commission website. However, this only accounts for some of the money. Lobbyists, especially in recent years, have taken to buying gifts or dinners for groups of lawmakers. While the lobbyist reports the number, gifts to groups do not go on any individual lawmaker's record.

According to a report by St Louis Public Radio, three-quarters of lobbyists' dollars went toward groups. That means the public doesn't know whom the recipient was for 75 percent of the money received by lawmakers. That's up 15 percent from previous years.

It happens with some regularity. Sometimes the group gifts are as simple as providing lunch to the entire Senate. Other times though it is a lobbyist group taking out entire committees to dinner.

John Bardgett & Associates, which represents companies like Anheuser-Busch, and Bank of America, provided almost $60,000 in gifts to lawmakers in the last two years. The biggest "gift" was a $4,827 dinner at Columbia's C.C. Broilers in Columbia, for the Utilities Committee. Bardgett represents multiple utility-based companies, including the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association and the Little Blue Valley Sewer District.

John Bardgett, president of the firm, said the dinners do not hurt the legislative process. "It's not like the lawmakers say 'hey you paid for this dinner, how do you want us to vote for this tomorrow,'" Bardgett said "We talk about family, how the kids are doing, something funny which happened on the floor that day."

Bardgett & Associates serves a wide variety of clients, and takes out a wide variety of committees for expensive dinners. In fact, the company picked up the $1000-plus tab for dinners for the the following committees: Economic Development (three times); Professional Registration and Licensing twice); Budget, Financial Institutions (four times); Local Government; Higher Education; Children, Families and Persons with Disability; Appropriations; Financial and Governmental Organizations; and Elections (twice). That's more than $25,000 of gifts on those dinners alone, none of which will ever be reported on a lawmaker's record.

In the last 10 years, Bardgett & Associates provided more than $266,000 in 1,159 gifts.

Bardgett said he and other lobbyists will play by whatever rules there are, and abuse of these rules are "rare and isolated instances." He said there is not an issue between lobbyists and lawmakers and that undue influence is more of a perception than reality.

During an interview about his ethics bill last session, Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said the bill was more about changing the perception of politics in Jefferson City. Rowden said lobbying is not really much of a problem.

Bardgett said, if the ethic rules changed, it would "save him money."

The biggest spender during the last legislative term, Ameren, spent more the $90,000, including a $16,000 meet and greet with the Westinghouse CEO. Westinghouse is a company that specializes in nuclear reactor technology, including the technology in the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant.

Another big lobby group, The Missouri Hospital Association, spent more than $75,000 last legislative term. It took out committees such as Appropriations, Budget, Veterans Affairs and Health and  Health Care Policy for dinners with tabs exceeding $1,000.

This year, Missouri lawmakers appropriated more than $200,000 million for a new building and repairs at Fulton State Hospital. However, lawmakers did not expand issues like Medicaid, which would have provided millions in health care.

THE PROCESS

Lobbyists are usually behind the scenes of the legislative process, representing clients' interests in Jefferson City.

According to Bardgett, the main duty for lobbyists is to help their clients understand the legislative process. Lobbyists let clients know of legislation which effects them, and work to advocate their clients' position.

"The most effective way to influence lawmakers is through grassroots," according to Bardgett "When your lawmaker goes in for his flu shot, and the local doctor says hey, you should vote no" on a senate bill, "that's pretty effective grass roots movement."

Bardgett said organizing his clients includes finding constituents in lawmakers' districts. Doing that, he said, is the best way to reach lawmakers in a meaningful way.

If Bardgett's legislation passes, the process is a little more complicated. According to Bardgett, his process starts in August, reaching out to lawmakers, usually by dropping by the district for a cup of coffee or giving them a call. He then brings up the potential legislation seeing if the lawmaker would be willing to sponsor the legislation and bring it up to leadership.

Bardgett said his 34 years of experience as a lobbyist helps with this process because of his connections and the years of trust he has built up.

Once a sponsor is found, Bardgett said he often looks to the other side of the aisle for a co-sponsor, and for other lawmakers who would be interested in signing on.

According to Bardgett, he then looks at which committee is the bill's likely landing point and feels out the committee chair.


THE RESULT

The issue with gifts can be simple. First, Missouri's ethics laws are some of the most lenient in the country, and there are no signs of changing. Year after year, ethics bills meant to solve the problem fail. With no restrictions, lobbyists pour almost $1 million into the Missouri Legislature.

Lobbying pays, as in the example of the Fulton State Hospital appropriation. The Missouri State Hospital association spent more than $75,000 lobbying for various ideas. The Fulton state hospital had a return of more than $200 million. But sometimes the intention of lobbyists fail. The main focus of The Missouri State Hospital Association is expanding Medicaid, which was not passed this year.

THE LAWMAKERS

Although three-fourths of the money going to lawmakers is undisclosed, the money which is given to individual sometimes reaches into the tens of thousands. The lawmaker receiving the most, Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, receiving almost $16,000 dollars in gifts throughout the last legislative session. She received more than $3,000 in travel expenses from the Missouri Biotechnical Association and Microsoft. Curls also got free tickets in 19 different instances, with a total face value of $3,390. Curls is on the Appropriations Committee and General Laws committee, and took almost $10,000 from energy companies.

The vice-chairman of the Governmental Oversight and Fiscal Responsibility Committee, Ryan Silvey, took the second highest total of gifts of any lawmaker last term, at more than $15,000.

Tom Dempsey, vice-chair of the Rules, Join-rules, and Ethics Committee came in fourth. Since being elected in 2007, Dempsey received almost $45,000 in lobbyist gifts.

The chairman of the Rules, Joint-rules and Ethics Committee is Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard. He has received $30,670 since being elected in 2010.

THE GROUPS

The biggest spending group in the state capitol are lobbying and consulting groups, who represent multiple clients on multiple issues. These firms are known for their personal connections and are, at times, former lawmakers themselves. They spent $346,559 dollars on behalf of their clients throughout the last term.

Health care groups represented the second largest amount for lobbying money spent, at $251,685. The last couple of years have seen a lot of health care legislation reach debate, such a tort reform and Medicaid expansion.


Other industries to spend more than $100,000 on lobbying include government/education, energy, food/agriculture/beverages, financial institutions, telecommunications and cable.


THE GIFTS

Lobbyists' gifts cover a wide variety of items and experiences. Far and away the most popular gift is food. Whether it is a lunch with a private lawmaker or a catered meal for the entire Missouri legislature, food is the biggest expense for lobbyists. According to a report by Lobbyingmissouri.org, almost 90 percent of funds went to providing meals.

Second was entertainment, things like tickets to Cardinals games. The University of Missouri often contributed free tickets to lawmakers for different football and basketball games. Occasionally lobbyists would pay for things like a free round of golf. Missouri Primary Care Association paid for a $161 round for Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Some gifts including things like airfare and free hotel stays for lawmakers. Lobbyist firm Flotron & McIntosh paid for multiple flights and hotel stays in San Jose, California, to people such as Sen. Paul Lavota, D- Independence, for a price tag of more than $1,200. Travel-related gifts were extremely rare.

WHAT'S NEXT

Ethics reform bills go to the Missouri Legislature floor in both chambers, but usually are defeated. This has been the case for years. Back in 2010, Gov. Jay Nixon called for "meaningful ethics reform," but nothing has been passed. The main issue, according to lawmakers, is the bills don't go far enough.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said that's true even with campaign reform, because people would "just find another loophole to get around it." Colona received more than $9,000 in lobbyist gifts last term.

A new set of ethics reform bills will likely be pre-filed this December.

(Map by KOMU 8 Digital Producer Mark Bergin. This article was updated to correct minor spelling errors.)

More News

Grid
List
COLUMBIA - Dozens of people came out Saturday for the eighth annual Fall Into Art show at Parkade Plaza. ... More >>
14 minutes ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 5:19:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
HARRISBURG, MO - A warm bed, a hot meal, and hugs from a loving family member are common enough memories... More >>
2 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 3:00:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
CAMDEN COUNTY - Two Osage Beach residents were pronounced dead early Saturday morning following a single-car crash late Friday night.... More >>
2 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 2:54:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - A Macon man and two others were hospitalized Saturday morning in one of two crashes that occurred... More >>
3 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 2:24:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA – New blood pressure guidelines mean nearly half of adults in the U.S. that did not have high blood... More >>
3 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 2:12:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Officials are testing for asbestos among the debris left from a massive St. Louis warehouse fire.... More >>
4 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 1:17:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri prosecutor will not file criminal charges against a Southwest Airlines pilot arrested after Transportation... More >>
4 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 1:07:54 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis man is facing charges for allegedly shooting a mechanic in a dispute over... More >>
4 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:59:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Christmas holiday begins this weekend at Union Station in Kansas City. The station... More >>
4 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:55:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state of Missouri is looking for input on how to spend $41 million from... More >>
4 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:41:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA- The Columbia Holiday Festival is giving local vendors a platform to support mid-Missouri charities this weekend. The Holiday... More >>
5 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 11:42:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Columbia police and fire department units responded to reports of an overturned car at Grayson Cottages early Saturday... More >>
9 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 7:53:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in Continuous News
CAMDENTON - The place a man envisioned as his retreat away from the hustle and bustle of regular life now... More >>
10 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 7:05:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Shots were fired in downtown Columbia early Saturday morning in an area typically packed with late night celebrants.... More >>
16 hours ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:49:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - One person was hurt in a crash on Stadium Boulevard at the intersections of East Pointe Road and... More >>
20 hours ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 9:12:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - The Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center off Providence Road caught fire Friday night. A division chief said crews... More >>
21 hours ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 8:19:52 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Each of Missouri’s counties are slating new council members for their MU Extension County Council. The councils... More >>
22 hours ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 6:52:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA – The Missouri State Highway Patrol will be putting "all available troopers" on the roads over Thanksgiving week. ... More >>
23 hours ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 5:58:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 44°
6pm 44°
7pm 43°
8pm 42°
9pm 41°

Select a station to view its upcoming schedule:

Coming Up Next

2:30p
College Football
6:00p
KOMU 8 News @ 6
6:30p
Wheel of Fortune
5:00p
Sheriffs El Dorado County
5:30p
Sheriffs El Dorado County
6:00p
The Cleveland Show

Tonight's Schedule

7:00p
Will & Grace
7:30p
Superstore
8:00p
Dateline NBC
9:00p
Saturday Night Live
7:00p
Family Guy
7:30p
Family Guy
8:00p
Bob's Burgers
8:30p
Bob's Burgers
9:00p
KOMU 8 News @ Nine on The CW
9:30p
Seinfeld