Ethics reform is important and it is even more important that we get the details right. In past years, some ethics laws have been declared unconstitutional by the courts on technicalities. This year, the legislature is breaking up ethics reform into multiple, single subject bills to ensure that they meet constitutional requirements.
The General Assembly was able to get three bills to the governor’s desk last week after many hours of hard work and debate. The result is a genuine effort to move the ethical standards of Missouri lawmakers in a positive direction, so that your Legislators will be held to a higher standard for many years to come.
House Bill 1979 imposes a new rule for members of the General Assembly, so they cannot register as lobbyists until six months after their legislative term has ended. Currently, about 5 percent of registered lobbyists are former legislators and a few of those legislators have left their elected terms early in order to become lobbyists. I have fought for amendments to House Bill 1979 that would require elected officials to finish out their term before they become lobbyists – no more resigning early to take a lobbying job. I look forward to the governor signing this bill.
The second ethics bill passed, House Bill 1983, specifies that no current statewide elected official or member of the General Assembly can serve as a paid political consultant for other elected officials or General Assembly members; this legislation has been signed by the governor. This new law will ensure that no elected officials use their position to further a private consulting business.
The third ethics bill passed this week, House Bill 2203, changes the laws regarding campaign fund investments, and would work to curb corruption in the campaign finance system. Currently, some lobbyists also control campaign committees with significant funds on hand. House Bill 2203 will require those campaign committees to be dissolved and the funds be distributed to charity or returned to donors.
Additionally, House Bill 2166 is still being worked on as of this writing. This bill will limit lobbyist expenditures to legislators and to the general assembly as a whole. We are working to ensure that the expenditure rules will not ban local organizations from hosting elected leaders at their annual meetings and conventions (annual meetings for farm and Chamber of Commerce for example), but I am confident that expenditure reform will happen this session.
Thank you for reading this weekly column. Please contact my office at (573) 751-3678 if you have any questions.