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Steelman proposes a gubernatorial ethics plan

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | 11:37 p.m. CDT; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — State Treasurer Sarah Steelman outlined a gubernatorial ethics platform Tuesday that would limit lobbyist activities and bar elected officials from receiving state tax breaks, contracts or loans.

Steelman’s plan essentially would reinstate — and expand — a treasurer’s office conflict-of-interest policy that the Republican-led legislature denounced as too restrictive.

As treasurer, Steelman has blocked ethanol and biodiesel plants from certain state incentives if even one investor is a lawmaker or relative of an elected official. That has prohibited aid from going to Show Me Ethanol, whose investors include state Rep. John Quinn, R-Chillicothe, and the governor’s brother, Andy Blunt.

But Republican Gov. Matt Blunt signed a bill two weeks ago that overturns Steelman’s policy by allowing facilities to receive state tax credits, exemptions and loans as long as public officials own less than 2 percent of the business.

As a result, Show Me Ethanol Chairman Dave Durham said Tuesday that the company will reapply for treasurer’s office incentives that could lower the interest rate it receives on a loan.

Steelman has called senators “cowards” for revising her conflict-of-interest policy by amending a tax break bill in the middle of the night without a roll call vote.

“If I’m elected governor, maybe they’ll understand that what they did was not in the best interest of the public,” Steelman said Tuesday.

But the gubernatorial campaign of her Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, suggested it was Steelman who is not acting in the public’s best interest.

“She’s waging war on Missouri’s farmers” by backing a policy that hurts cooperatives whose hundreds of investors might include a few state officials, said Hulshof spokesman Scott Baker.

Hulshof operates a family farm in southeast Missouri. His federal financial disclosure report shows he also owns a share in Great River Soy Processing Co-op, a Lilbourn biodiesel plant that has received state subsidies.

Baker suggested Steelman has her own ethical issues. Among those he cited: Steelman’s state financial disclosure report shows her husband, David Steelman, is on the board of directors for Town & Country Bank in Salem, which receives state deposits through the treasurer’s office.

Hulshof outlined his own ethics proposal in April.

Both Steelman and Hulshof want to prohibit elected officials from receiving lobbyist gifts. Both also propose changes in how the Missouri Ethics Commission pursues violators of campaign finance and lobbyist laws. Hulshof would make it easier to prove criminal violations by lowering the standard to “knowingly” — instead of “purposely” — violating the law. Steelman would strengthen the penalty for purposeful violations by making them felonies.

Steelman’s proposal also would:

  • Require a two-year wait for an elected official to become a lobbyist.
  • Ban elected officials from serving as political consultants, as House Speaker Rod Jetton currently does.
  • Broadcast the audio of all legislative committee meetings over the Internet, as is already done for full sessions of the House and Senate.

Some of the other elements of Hulshof’s plan would:

  • Change the way members of the Missouri Ethics Commission are appointed and require bipartisan co-chairs.
  • Create an objective point system for awarding state license office contracts according to bids, instead of as political patronage appointments.
  • Require personal financial disclosure reports of statewide elected officials, legislators and judges to be available on the Ethics Commission’s Web site. Currently, they are available to the public only at the Ethics Commission office in Jefferson City.

Hulshof also proposed setting a $2,500 contribution limit to candidates for statewide office. That would be an increase over the current maximum of $1,350, which is adjusted every two years to keep pace with inflation.

A bill passed in May by the legislature — and awaiting Blunt’s signature or veto — would repeal contribution limits for individuals, businesses and political action committees effective Aug. 28. Blunt signed a similar bill in 2006, but it was overturned by the state Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

Steelman and Attorney General Jay Nixon, the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, both have said they support the state’s current contribution limits.


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