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Lobbyist Gift Ban Heard

By:JOHN R. GRECH
State Capital Bureau

February 07, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Legislation to ban lobbyists from wining and dining state legislators got a hostile reception from members of Missouri's House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would prohibit lobbyists from buying dinner or drinks for legislators, a common practice in the Capital.

``Are you saying there is a correlation between a meal and improper influence?'' Rep. Brian May, D-St. Louis, asked of Greg Canuteson, D-Liberty, the bill's sponsor.

``You are perpetrating a myth, making it a reality, by introducing this legislation,'' May told Canuteson.

But Canuteson prefaced his presentation with ``I'm not saying Jefferson City is a bastion of corruption. I am not suggesting anyone has done something wrong. I just think the system could be better.''

Canuteson is married to a registered lobbyist.

Steve McLuckie, D-Kansas City, said he co-sponsored the bill because of public perception. ``People see lobbyists as having a leg up on average constituents,'' McLuckie told the committee.

No one testified against the bill.

But committee members raised a series of objections a questions _ including how the bill would affect Canuteson getting a gift from his lobbyist-wife.

The committee chairman, Gary Witt, D-Platte City, is married to an employee of a lobbyist and wondered how legislation could prevent his wife's boss from giving them a wedding present.

Witt also asked the sponsors about being invited to a banquet by the Missouri Bar Association to receive a plaque.

Neither Canuteson nor McLuckie could answer the questions. Both expressed hope that they could work with the committee in fixing the language of their bill. ``It could be better than its present form,'' said Canuteson.

Witt appointed a sub-committee to investigate how the legislation could be structured, but Witt remained skeptical. ``I helped with major ethics legislation several years ago to come up with current disclosure laws,'' Witt said, referring to laws which require lobbyists to register. ``And we could not figure out how to address these issues.''

``The press has been blasting us for not passing the bill as is, but these are legitimate concerns,'' Witt said. ``Under the provisions of the bill Canuteson's wife would be committing a crime if she bought him a birthday present.''

The legislation comes two weeks after President Clinton called on Congress to resist temptations from lobbyists. But Canuteson said there was no catalyst for his bill.

``I introduced similar legislation last year and the reception was not very warm. We didn't even have a hearing,'' he said. ``Despite being unwelcome, I want zero-tolerance for lobbyist expenditures. Frankly, that probably won't pass.''

Canuteson is optimistic that out-of-state travel and some limits could pass in some form of compromise.

``I can't understand why people are so resistant to change. To me it's a no-brainer,'' Canuteson said. ``We're trying to level the playing field.''



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