Missouri lawmakers should comply with the Sunshine Law. They should have been following the law all along but had insisted they were exempt from it.
Voters added the Clean Missouri amendment to the Missouri Constitution to make it clear state lawmakers must adhere to it.
Except they haven’t.
Last month, a government watchdog group filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the House to follow the law. The lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court challenges the House rule passed in January that allows representatives to essentially ignore the amendment.
A state lawmaker has also asked Attorney General Eric Schmitt for an opinion on whether House members are acting within the law when they redact names, addresses and other information of people who emailed lawmakers. Such requests of the attorney general are not unusual, but Schmitt, who received the request in March, appears slow in responding to this one.
House Rule 127 states: “Members may keep constituent case files, and records of the caucus of the majority or minority party of the House that contain caucus strategy, confidential. Constituent case files include any correspondence, written or electronic, between a member and a constituent, or between a member and any other party pertaining to a constituent’s grievance, a question of eligibility for any benefit as it relates to a particular constituent, or any issue regarding a constituent’s request for assistance.”
That rule should not stand. The Sunshine Law is important to curb — or at least reveal — the dirt in the often dirty business of politics.
Lawmakers get a lot of correspondence, but some of it purports to be grassroots email when it is really AstroTurf. For a long time, advocacy groups have written form letters then urged constituents to copy letters or more frequently “click here” to send emails to lawmakers and others. There have even been schemes to incentivize the prefab email passion through rewards — unlawfully.
The latest spin on the pseudo grassroots campaign cuts the constituent out of the process altogether by spoofing email addresses so the purported sender doesn’t know anything about the missive.
We look forward to the court’s verdict, but the attorney general should stop delaying and render an opinion in the matter.
Better yet, lawmakers should rescind the rule and comply with the will of the people of Missouri.
Copyright The Joplin Globe. Reprinted with permission.