WHAT OTHERS SAY: Time for ethics law is now

Thursday, March 1, 2012 | 10:05 a.m. CST

Nothing should stand in the way of the Missouri legislature passing an ethics bill, especially not an election.

Missouri had a perfectly good ethics law that was passed in 2010, but the state Supreme Court struck it down because it was attached to an unrelated bill dealing with purchase contracts and printing services. That, the court ruled, is unconstitutional.

Two years ago, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate described the legislation as “aggressive” and “meaningful” reform to the way business is done in Jefferson City. Now, Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, finds the issue to be too hot to handle in an election year. He’s banking on a “better bill” in 2013 when electioneering is over.

That’s bad timing and bad reasoning. The upcoming elections are all the more reason for the legislature to come up with a clean bill that ensures transparency, caps donations and prohibits gifts from lobbyists. With no teeth, the Ethics Commission has no way to keep influence peddling in check.

With no limits now on contributions, nothing to stop a kind of “money laundering” scheme that allows committees to transfer campaign money back and forth to keep it from being tracked, and no way to keep legislators from getting in bed with lobbyists in order to get on the lobby payroll before they even leave office, the people of Missouri have nothing to stand between their best interests and the personal interests of their elected lawmakers.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said the session is so busy that an ethics bill is unlikely to get anywhere behind a backlog of bills. In fact, it has yet to be assigned to a committee.

It is time to get priorities straight. The upcoming election is a compelling reason to put the ethics bill on the front burner.

Jones went further to suggest that Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, the original sponsor of the 2010 ethics bill, filed a bill to reinstate the law because he is playing politics. Kander is running for secretary of state.

“Maybe it’s an election year issue for him,” Jones said.

It is indeed an election year issue, and an issue for all the rest of the years, too. Without laws that hold lawmakers and candidates accountable to voters, it’s just too easy to be lured by financial accounts.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.

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