Progress Missouri report highlights lobbyist gifts
JEFFERSON CITY - A report released by Progress Missouri outlines close to $11 million in lobbyist gifts since 2004, nearly $1 million per year to elected officials, their staff members and families.
Progress Missouri said the report is aimed at shining light on lobbyist gifts received by Missouri elected officials. The group said there is a provision in state rules that allows details for gifts to be hidden from the public.
"We wanted to see overall trends and we also wanted to look and see what portion of gifts are being hidden through what we call the 'group expenditure loophole' because we have seen growth in the use of that loophole to hide true recipients' gifts," said Sean Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri.
The provision Nicholson refers to is a statute in Missouri law and is explained on the ethics commission's website on lobbyist reporting policies.
"I think the word loophole is obviously in the eye of the beholder. From our perspective there is a provision in the statute that says that if a lobbyist invites a group, and everyone in that group is invited, they can actually report that expenditure as a group expenditure and therefore not require each individual person who might have attended that event to be listed as receiving," said James Klahr, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission.
An example Klahr provided is: If the members of the House of Representatives got invited to an event, then that can be reported as a group expenditure, even if only a few representatives actually went.
The Progress Missouri's report breaks down some such expenditures:
- More than $10.8 million worth of food, drinks, travel and other gifts have been provided to Missouri officials since 2004 by registered lobbyists.
- Most of these gifts were reported as going to groups.
- Ryan Silvey, Tom Dempsey, Mike Talboy, Mike Parson, and Paul LeVota were the top gift recipients since 2004 when including gifts given to official staff and family members with their individual totals.
- The staff of Senator Kurt Schaefer has taken more gifts than any other legislative staff. His staff and his family have received $439,237 in gifts.
"We have compiled information that came straight from the state that is collected from what the lobbyists themselves report. These numbers are from the state website. What we've done is a time consuming task, but it's math, we've just added up all the numbers. If a legislator doesn't like the fact that their the top gift recipient that's not our problem," Nicholson said.
The report also breaks down gift takers by region, and which legislators' families and staff members receive the most gifts.
Klahr said, while there are a number of states that have certain limitations on how much lobbyists can give, Missouri does not. Klahr said he thinks there will be more discussions on whether there should be limits on lobbying.