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COLUMN: Ethics reform in Missouri legislature must include contribution limits

Thursday, January 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:42 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We’ve all heard the old line about how nobody’s secure in life or property while the legislature is in session. So I won’t repeat it. Instead, I’ll try as always to look at the legislative glass as though it’s half full rather than 90 percent empty and leaking fast.

With no money to spend, our legislators and governor seem intent on making 2010 the year of cleaning up and cracking down.

Contact your state legislator

Representatives

Mary Still, District 25

201 West Capitol Avenue Room 101H

Jefferson City, MO 65101

Phone: 573-751-1169

E-Mail: Mary.Still@house.mo.gov

Paul Quinn, District 9

201 West Capitol Avenue Room 101J

Jefferson City, MO 65101

Phone: 573-751-4028

E-Mail: Paul.Quinn@house.mo.gov

Steve Hobbs, District 21

201 West Capitol Avenue Room 206C

Jefferson City, MO 65101

Phone: 573-751-9458

E-Mail: Steve.Hobbs@house.mo.gov

Stephen Webber, District 23

201 West Capitol Avenue Room 106A

Jefferson City, MO 65101

Phone: 573-751-9753

E-Mail: Stephen.Webber@house.mo.gov

Chris Kelly, District 24

201 West Capitol Avenue Room 106B

Jefferson City, MO 65101

Phone: 573-751-4189

E-Mail: Chris.Kelly@house.mo.gov

Senators

Kurt Schaefer, District 19 Republican (Boone and Randolph counties)

201 W. Capitol Ave., Room 226

Jefferson City, MO 65101

573-751-3931

Bill Stouffer, District 21 Republican (Macon, Chariton, Carroll, Ray, Lafayette, Saline, Howard and Cooper counties)

201 W. Capitol Ave., Room 332

Jefferson City, MO 65101

573-751-1507

Toll-free: 866-768-3987

Carl M. Vogel, District 6 Republican (Morgan, Miller, Moniteau, Cole and Callaway counties)

201 W. Capitol Ave., Room 321

Jefferson City, MO 65101

573-751-2076

Wes Shoemyer District 18 Democrat (Putnam, Schuyler, Scotland, Clark, Adair, Knox, Lewis, Shelby, Marion, Monroe, Ralls, Pike and Audrain counties)

201 W. Capitol Ave., Room 434

Jefferson City, MO 65101

573-751-7852

To e-mail a senator, go to: www.senate.mo.gov/webmail/mail_form.aspx


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Gov. Nixon wants to clean up the state’s water, especially the Lake of the Ozarks. He and some legislators, Republican as well as Democratic, want to crack down on distracted driving, both the kind that results from texting and the kind that results from drinking. I can’t imagine why there’d be any opposition to cleaner water and safer roads.

The biggest and most important clean-up, though, would be the clean-up of the political process itself. These are early days, I know, but it’s encouraging that the governor and the Republican leaders of both House and Senate are talking in similar terms about governmental, especially legislative, ethics.

It would be a nice irony if Rod Jetton’s legacy turned out to be reforms to the system he abused so lucratively. Remember that while he was speaker of the House, he also ran a political consulting firm that had fellow legislators as high-paying clients. After he left the legislature, he was the middle man in the massive contributions to Republicans after the House passed a resolution to gut the nonpartisan judicial selection plan.

Ideally, we’d cut the connection between money and elections by having campaign costs paid by the citizenry as a whole. That would be the best way to end the legalized bribery that is how we finance campaigns now. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Too many powerful interests prefer the current system and too many citizens are apathetic.

Still, without anybody willing to admit there’s an ethics crisis in Jefferson City, there does appear to be an eagerness to address it.

Gov. Nixon wants to reinstate the campaign contribution limits we voters once approved, restrict donations from political action committees, prohibit Jetton-like consulting by officeholders and forbid legislators from becoming lobbyists as soon as they leave office.

House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, who hired Jetton as a consultant, also wants to ban legislator-consultants and delay legislator-lobbyists. He proposes as well a ban on lobbyist gifts to individual legislators, expanded financial disclosure by elected officials, family members and staff, and a prohibition against job offers to legislators by a governor.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields has proposed adding a staff investigator for the Missouri Ethics Commission, the dull-toothed monitor of electoral evil-doing. He also wants to ban campaign donations during the legislative session and to require more disclosure by legislative staff.

What’s missing from those Republican laundry lists is the most important item: limits on campaign contributions. There’ll be no deep cleaning of politics without such limits. Sen. Shields, who has said he’ll oppose limits, says disclosure of who’s giving is enough. It’s not, especially when so many committees with deliberately misleading names obscure real identities.

Gov. Nixon, in making his proposals, described the present system of faux transparency as a “sham.” The Missourian reported last week that at least one Republican back-bencher, Gary Dusenberg of Blue Springs, agrees. He has prefiled a bill to impose limits and says he senses support on his side of the aisle.

Ridding the roads of texters and drunks would be a fine thing. So would keeping sewage out of our streams and lakes. Cleansing the capital of campaign corruption would be even better.

If you agree, let our legislators know.

 

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

   

 


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Comments

Melinda Lockwood January 7, 2010 | 1:45 p.m.

If our legislators don't know what is ethical behavior and what is not, we are in deep trouble. Most of us have that little inner voice (I believe it is called your conscience although some older people might call it Jiminy Cricket)that reminds you when something you are considering is wrong. If we are electing folks who lack a conscience, maybe we should vote them all out and start over.

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