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GOP kills round-table breakfasts

February 02, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Lobbyists might find "The Breakfast Club" at Blockbuster Video, but they won't find it at a Jefferson City country club.

GOP leaders ended plans for a fundraising program Wednesday which invited lobbyists into "round-table" discussions with state legislators in exchange for sizable campaign donations.

The move comes after fierce criticism from Democrats, who claimed the breakfasts were unethical.

The plan was detailed in an e-mail sent out Tuesday by a fundraiser from the Senate Majority Fund to dozens of Jefferson City lobbyists. Each of the 14 meetings allowed lobbyists to interact with the chairmen of Senate committees. Under the program, a lobbyist would pay $1,000 to attend a single one-hour meeting and $5,000 to attend all 14.

Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who was scheduled to lead the first meeting on Feb. 14, said he didn't have any problem with canceling the round-table discussions.

He said the discussions were opportunities for lobbyists to interact with legislators about issues outside the confines of the capitol building.

"Clearly, we have interaction with folks who are interested in what we do down here," Shields said.

Shields said the discussion were a "distraction," and it was better to cancel them than to move on with them.

"It was a distraction from what we were trying to do down here in the process," he said. "That's what everyone is going to read about in the newspaper all day long. There's no sense to move forward with them."

Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, said axing the meetings was "probably the right thing to do."

"It's appearance as much as anything," Loudon said. "This is a heightened sensitivity and I think it's always proper that there's this kind of scrutiny."

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said she was glad the breakfasts were stopped before they started.

"It's wise to take the 'for sale' sign down," she said. "And let's have open and free discussions like we have had."

Bray was one of several Democrats who called for the end of the program. In a prepared statement released on Wednesday before the breakfasts were canceled, Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, said lobbyists were, "going to expect a whole lot more than a warm plate of bacon and eggs for $5,000."

"These lobbyist breakfasts only further undermine Missourians' trust in state government," said Barnitz in the statement.

Shields said Democrats throw similar events to the breakfasts, only in different settings.

"Democrats do cocktail parties, we were doing breakfasts," Shields said. "So I don't know if there's a lot of difference, but if they somehow thought that was inappropriate, I don't have any problem canceling."