Despite public uproar, Missouri has yet to enact any ethics reform. Will that change any time soon?
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Lobbyist Money Help  

Despite public uproar, Missouri has yet to enact any ethics reform. Will that change any time soon?

Date: November 12, 2014
By: Steven Anthony
State Capitol Bureau

Missouri is the only state without restrictions on lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions, but some lawmakers are looking to change that.
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Wrap: The issue of whether money equals speech and is protected under the First Amendment has come to a head in the recent past at the United States Supreme Court.

In 2010, the Court held corporations and labor unions could spend their own money to support or oppose candidates for office.

Critics charged this opened up the floodgates for unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions to influence elections and help elect candidates that would promote their agendas.

Missouri faces a similar floodgate situation.

The Show Me State is the only state in the nation where there are no campaign contribution or lobbyist gift limits.

This frutrates St. Louis County Democratic Senator Scott Sifton.

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Description: "We have what is arguably the most lax environment of any state in the country and I think that that is deplorable and I think it undermines and erodes the public's confidence in its government."

Sifton introduced bills to ban all lobbyist gifts in the 2013 and 2014 legislative session, but neither got further than committee.

Sifton announced recently he would seek the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in 2016.

Two of Missouri's current statewide elected officials have made ethics reform a signature issue of theirs.

Those two people are Governor Jay Nixon and Secretary of State Jason Kander.

Kander says the lack of campaign contribution limits and lobbyist gift restrictions can affect businesses in the state. 

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Description: "When you have an environment that allows unlimited contributions and unlimited gifts to lobbyists, then what you end up with is a situation where it's a much more volatile environment for business and that's not a good thing."

Kander also says lawmakers attitudes toward this issue is not healthy.

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Description: "I do get a little bit frustrated when we get down the road later in the legislative session when I hear not critcism of the ideas. You rarely see legislators criticize the ideas that are proposed in the legislation. What you hear are legislators saying some version of 'it's too hard.' And to me, that's an unacceptable answer and to the majority of Missourians, the vast majority of Missourians, that is a completely unacceptable answer."

Columbia Republican Representative Caleb Jones said in response to Kander that any changes to ethics laws is one of the more difficult issues lawmakers deal with.

He also said there is one thing lawmakers don't want to have happen as a result of them passing any kind of bill.

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Description: "You know the last thing that I think we would want to do as legislators is to pass a bill trying to help make the campaigning and legislative process more transparent, then have the courts throw is out as unconstitutional."

Jones added that Missouri voters should have the final say on one specific part of any package.

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Description: "Dealing with campaign contribution limits, I think that's something we should actually ask the people of Missouri to vote on. I think it's that important."

Missouri voters approved campaign contribution limits in 1994 by a 74 to 26 margin, but the legislature has unraveled them over time.

In 2006, lawmakers repealed the limits voters passed, but the state Supreme Court struck down the repeal.

Lawmakers passed the repeal again in 2008 and it was signed into law by Republican Governor Matt Blunt.

In 2008, then-Senator Kevin Engler voted for the repeal of campaign contribution limits.

He says the system back then was not working.

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Description: "I voted yes because it had gotten to the point without transparency you couldn't tell who was giving you money. We had limits, but they were a joke."

Engler added that the current system is not ideal, but it's better than what Missouri had before.

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Description: By getting rid of the limits, people could give you whatever you want. All you had to do is know what was given to somebody and you could decide whether you agreed with that person or not."

But after the United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of free speech involving contributions, some Missouri lawmakers are once again calling for the reinstallation of campaign contribution limits and lobbyist gift restrictions.

The next Speaker of the House, St. Louis County Republican John Diehl, said his caucus will look at the issue in the upcoming legislative session, but he didn't commit to any specific proposals.

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Description: "All the specifics of legislation, we're going to have discussions among the caucus about what we think an ethics package should look like and I suspect we'll be bringing something forward."

Kander says he thinks the political will is there to get something passed.

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Description: "Yes, I do think there is the political will, but to me, the question is not can they get it done. The question is when are they going to get it done."

Jones says despite what many people think, lawmakers are working to get something passed.

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Description: "Anybody that says that the legislature is not working on this is lying."

Jones also says working with Democratic Governor Jay Nixon won't be an issue and that he trusts him.

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Description: "Yes. I don't think that... I mean, I think the governor's shown some willingness to work on this issue. I look forward to working with him on it."

With the lack of campaign contribution limits, one St. Louis investment firm founder is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into one candidate's coffers.

Rex Sinquefield has donated more than $800,000 to former Speaker of the House Catherine Hanaway's campaign for governor.

Back in 2007 when the state Supreme Court struck down the legislature's repeal of campaign contribution limits, Sinquefield formed over 100 committees to pour money into the campaign of then-Attorney General candidate Chris Koster.

But with the lack of campaign contribution limits, those with lots of money like Sinquefield no longer need to do that. 

Republicans will hold supermajorities in the House and Senate when the legislature convenes for their 2015 session on January 7th.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Steven Anthony.