Missouri governor prescribes four pillars for ethics reform

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | 6:51 p.m. CST; updated 11:05 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 3, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Add Gov. Jay Nixon's voice to the growing chorus for ethics reform.

In a phone conference Wednesday, Nixon described the "four pillars" he said are necessary for ethics reform in Missouri's government: reinstating campaign contribution limits, banning transfers of money from one committee to another, prohibiting of elected officials from receiving money for political consulting and making former legislators wait before they can register as lobbyists.

Nixon said a broad consensus now exists within the legislature to bring back campaign contribution limits, which were repealed in 2008. Contribution limits are supported by 74 percent of Missouri voters, according to a release from the governor's office.

"The public supports everything I said in overwhelming numbers," Nixon said.

Rep. Gary Dusenberg, R-Blue Springs, whose prefiled bill to impose contribution limits was cited by Nixon as a example of bipartisan support for the idea, said he agreed with the governor's assessment.

Although Dusenberg said he had not specifically talked to anyone about the issue, he said he thinks there is a consensus within the legislature to bring back some type of contribution limits.

House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said that when the repeal of contribution limits passed in 2008, it did so by one vote. Since that time, Democrats have gained three seats and a few Republicans have changed their mind on the issue, LeVota said.

The new numbers "add up to exactly where we need to be," said LeVota, who has prefiled his own bill that would limit campaign contributions. A majority of Democrats and five Republicans have already offered support for his bill, LeVota said.

As attorney general in 1999, Nixon argued successfully in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the practice of contribution limits.

While Dusenberg's bill would limit the amount of money committees would be allowed to give to candidates, he said he would be willing to consider a ban on all committee contributions if that was what Nixon was proposing.

As previously reported , Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty, and Rep. Jason Kander,  Kansas City, have prefiled a bill that would also ban the movement of money from one committee to another.

A ban on legislators accepting money for political consulting would outlaw such activities as was the practice of former House Speaker Rod Jetton. While serving as speaker, Jetton also accepted money from other legislators to act as their political consultant.

Jetton, who was indicted on felony assault charges earlier this month, is one of a number of current and former members of the legislature who have run afoul with the law over the last year.

Nixon said he was willing to talk about a proposal by House Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, that would ban all contributions from lobbyists but added that limits on lobbying "do not solve the problem."

Tilley could not be reached for comment.

A number of suggestions on how long a legislator would have to wait to become a lobbyist — ranging from six months to two years — have been proposed, Nixon said, adding that he was willing to work with the legislature on the time frame.

Tightening the definition of a lobbyist is also something that could be considered, Nixon said, an item proposed in the Flook-Kander bill.

"It's very encouraging that the governor is putting his opinion and influence behind these things," LeVota said.

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