Fundraising pervades Mo. veto session

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:57 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Leaning over a desk in his office, Sen. Chuck Gross rapidly scanned some documents in preparation for the Legislature’s veto session, highlighted a few lines and handed them to an assistant as he dashed out of the room. Gross was in a hurry to get to a luncheon fundraiser for his re-election campaign.

He’s not alone.

The week of the annual veto session has become an almost continuous political fundraiser in Missouri’s capital. Some longtime lawmakers and lobbyists say the solicitations seem to have grown to unprecedented levels — most noticeably since the onset of term limits.

“People are here for a shorter period of time. They’ve got to raise money and get ready for the next election,” said Gross, R-St. Charles, who is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Missouri Constitution requires the Legislature to convene to consider overriding gubernatorial vetoes on the Wednesday following the second Monday of each September. Sometimes, such as this year, governors call special sessions to overlap with the veto session.

Lawmakers seldom override vetoes and aren’t expected to this year. But the fixed date of the veto session makes it a convenient time to court contributors.

On Monday night, both the Senate Democratic and House Republican campaign committees held fundraisers. Senate Republicans planned to raise money tonight, and House Democrats planned to do the same Thursday morning.

The Capitol social schedule can get so hectic that it’s hard to keep up with it.

Stopped in a Capitol hall Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Brad Lager couldn’t recall if he had a fundraiser. After checking his office computer, Lager found that a lobbyist was holding one Thursday morning.

“I think it’s for me,” said Lager, R-Maryville.

In 1992, voters approved caps of eight years each in the House and Senate. The clock started ticking with the 1994 elections, meaning it wasn’t until 2002 that veteran House members and some senators were barred from seeking re-election. The clock struck in 2004 for the remaining senators (those whose first four-year term after the voter initiative occurred in the 1996 election).

In the era before term limits, some veteran lawmakers had little reason to hold fundraisers, because their name recognition was so strong that they seldom had serious opponents. Now, incumbents have less name identification and a greater incentive to try to move up quickly to a higher office, which increases the need to raise money.

As head of the Senate Democratic campaign efforts, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, was on the phone soliciting contributions from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, before heading to the 5 p.m. fundraising event. He planned more calls afterward and another full day of fundraising Tuesday. For Graham, the veto session is essentially a fundraising session.

“Because of the way it’s structured, there’s not a lot of work to do” in the General Assembly, he said.

Yet not all the week’s events are politically motivated. Some lawmakers plan to raise money Thursday for the education of the children of former Rep. Richard Byrd, R-Kirkwood, who died in May. Others plan to attend an annual party tonight hosted by lobbyist Jim Russell, the husband of Supreme Court Judge Mary Rhodes Russell.

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