House committee passes new ethics bill
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House committee passes new ethics bill

Date: March 25, 2010
By: Andrew Denney
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 2300 and HB 1500

JEFFERSON CITY - A House committee approved a ethics reform bill Thursday containing provisions removed from a similar bill passed by the Senate last month.

By unanimous vote, the House Ethics Committee approved a bill containing 28 provisions pertaining to conflicts of interest, campaign finance laws and ethical conduct by legislators. The bill was proposed by the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho.

The House bill would cap contributions to campaigns for state office at $5,000, prohibits members of the General Assembly from acting as paid political consultants while they are in office, and makes bribery by elected officials and appointees a class D felony.

These provisions were not contained in the Senate's ethics reform bill, which on March 4 passed the upper chamber 31-0.

"The Senate bill was very limited in what it did," Wilson said. 

One of the major differences with the Senate involves reimposing limits on campaign contributions.  Missouri voters approved campaign contribution limits in 1994 by an overwhelming vote -- only to be repealed by the legislature in time for the 2008 elections. 

Gov. Jay Nixon called on lawmakers to reinstate the voter-approved limits in his State of the State address in January.  But keeping the lid off of campaign contributions has enjoyed strong support in Missouri's Senate.

Opponents of the voter-approved limits argue they do not stem the flow of contribution funds, as contributors can form multiple political committees to give money to politicians.

Ethics was identified as a legislative priority by lawmakers and the governor after the felony convictions of three former Democratic legislators last year. Currently, former House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, has acknowledged he is the target of a federal investigation involving legislative activity.

The bill reported from the House Committee would ban a legislator from working as a political consultant for other legislators.  Jetton had been criticized for working as a paid political consultant for fellow legislators whose bills he could kill or advance as House speaker.

The committee measure also would impose a $1,000 cap on how much a legislator could accept from a lobbyist in any one calendar year. 

The House Republican Leader, Steve Tilley, had proposed a complete ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators.

The House committee version also would ban a legislator from working as a lobbyist for one year after leaving office.

None of the lobbying restrictions are contained in the Senate version which is limited to campaign finance issues.

The House bill contains provisions that would ban the transfer of funds between political committees, give the Missouri Ethics Commission the authority to conduct independent investigations, and require contributions of more than $2,000 to be reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission within 48 hours.

These provisions also are in the Senate bill, but the Senate bill required contributions of more than $250 to be reported to the commission.

GOP Leader Tilley, R-Perryville, said he is against limits on campaign contributions, and said the House would be able to pass a stronger version of the bill than the Senate. 

House Minority Leader Paul LaVota, D-Independence, said "most" House Democrats would be for contribution limits.

"I didn't think it would get this far," LaVota said about the measure.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said a bill that reinstates campaign contribution limits would not be likely to pass in the Senate.

"We in the Senate believe that contribution limits work against transparency because they cause contributions to move through various committees before reaching the candidate," Shields said.