WHAT OTHERS SAY: Republicans say corruption exists in the legislature

Friday, May 31, 2013 | 2:48 p.m. CDT; updated 4:37 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 31, 2013

When Missouri Republicans level the charge of corruption at members of their own party, it’s time to start paying attention.

Such was the case not once, but twice on the last day of this year’s session of the legislature.

In the upper chamber, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, blamed corruption in the House for the annual stalling of bipartisan tax credit reform.

In the House, Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, lobbed a similar charge against House leadership, for trying to sneak through last-minute changes to a utility bill.

Mssrs. Lager and Funderburk were hardly the best messengers for such important news. Neither is exactly squeaky clean in the ethics department.

But their charge is still a strong indictment of the culture of corruption in the Missouri legislature. While they didn’t name him, both men were targeting, among others, Majority Floor Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country. The name is pronounced “deal.”

Mr. Diehl’s campaign finance reports help identify a key reason for the legislature’s current dysfunction.

Among those Mr. Diehl is paying for political advice are three Republican political consultants who also double as lobbyists. Mr. Diehl, who is in line to be the next Speaker of the House, has been paying lobbyist/consultant James Harris a $500-a-month retainer. He’s been paying lobbyist/consultant David Barklage $1,000 a month. And he has paid lobbyist/consultant Steve Tilley (the former Speaker of the House) $2,000 a month.

Mr. Diehl is paying them to help keep him in power. Their lobbying clients are paying them to advance or block legislation. As lobbyists, Mr. Barklage and Mr. Tilley represented opposite sides of the same utility legislation that got Mr. Funderburk so upset on the session’s last day.

Ethics laws exist to help taxpayers see the flow of money that is used to influence legislators. In the case of Mr. Diehl and many others, the money is flowing so many different directions that ethical lines are blurred — precisely the point made by Mssrs. Lager and Funderburk.

At least in Mr. Diehl’s case, the money trail, however blurry, can be followed.

That’s not the case with Tom Smith, the chief of staff for Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka. Mr. Smith runs a political consulting firm that gets paid by the very lawmakers who, if they want access to Mr. Jones, have to go through Mr. Smith. Then he bills taxpayers for comp time he takes from his state job to do his political work.

State law doesn’t require him to file a personal financial disclosure, so taxpayers can’t see who’s paying him.

It’s legal, but it’s wrong.

The Missouri legislature remains a very broken place.

Don’t take our word for it. Listen to the Republicans who run the place.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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