Missouri’s General Assembly has been referred to as the million dollar legislature.
When it comes to lawmakers’ ability to accept gifts from lobbyists, Missouri is in a game of no-limit political poker.
There is no law prohibiting or even limiting lobbyist gifts to our state legislators.
It is illegal for an office holder to accept a gift as part of an arrangement to vote a certain way.
However, when it comes to the wining and dining and other swag offered to public servants in Jefferson City, the sky’s the limit.
2013 was a very good year if you were a lawmaker in the Show-Me state because lobbyists showed our public servants nearly a million dollars in political patronization.
It wasn’t in cash, but instead came in the form of tickets to major sporting events including the Cardinals, Royals, Rams, and Chiefs games.
There is plenty of Mizzou pride, too. Many lawmakers accepted tickets to MU football games – and complimentary parking.
We have some live music fans in the assembly, as well.
Lobbyists accepted tickets to many concerts including Lady Gaga and Bon Jovi, gifts supporters of ethics reform call “Bad Medicine!”
Missouri Rep. John Wright (D-Rocheport) said, “I don’t think legislators who represent the public and represent our state ought to be taking gifts from individuals who are in the official business of influencing legislation.”
The most common gift to our state legislators is food and drink. In fact, in one night and in one meal our lawmakers feasted at the high-end Columbia steak house C.C. City Broiler.
The tab at the end of the night? $4,827.11! If the lobbyist had spent that nearly 5-grand elsewhere, let’s say instead of C.C. Broiler at CiCi’s Pizza, all 197 members of the general
assembly could have bellied-up to the pizza buffet 25 times each!
“A 5-thousand dollar dinner at CC Broiler’s for the Utilities’ Committee. This is the committee that’s charged with helping to oversee the rates that utilities are permitted to charge Missouri families every month,” said Wright.
In the state Senate, KiKi Curls topped the list of gifts from lobbyists. The Kansas City-area Democrat raked in more than $7,000 in freebies, not including the swag received for serving on her 17 committees and panels – including the very powerful Appropriations Committee.
ABC 17 News headed directly to her office to ask her whether or not she thinks this could affect her integrity as a lawmaker.
She wasn’t available for an on-camera interview. She also never returned my e-mail with the same question.
On the Republican side, Senator Brian Munzlinger topped the lobbyist list of senators representing Mid-Missouri with almost $2,900 in gifts.
ABC 17 took the ethics question to his office in the Capitol and he agreed to sit down and visit with us.
We asked about the possible perception of being “bought” by lobbyists.
“Anything can be perceived. I mean I’ve gone to dinner with lobbyists and the next day they wanted me to vote for something and I had to look ’em in the eye and tell them no,
it’s not what I believe in. You know where we’re at right now, we have full disclosure. It’s full transparency as to where it comes from. I don’t really have a problem with people
knowing what’s going on down here. And, that’s where we’ve been for quite a while,” said Munzlinger.
That transparency is online at the Missouri Ethics Commission’s webpage. You can check on how much influence lobbyists have on your public servant. For example, we’ll take a look at Republican Senator Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City. In all of 2013, Senator Kehoe accepted zero dollars in gifts, independently.
“There are a number of lawmakers who – like me – have personal policies against accepting lobbyist gifts. I think the problem is not that we don’t have good people. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues in the Missouri Legislature. I have a lot of respect for a lot of lobbyists,” said Wright.
Representative John Wright has signed the Missouri Gift Ban Pledge.
He’s joined by his fellow Democrat State Senator Scott Sifton from the St. Louis area – as the only two incumbent Missouri lawmakers to pledge not to accept any gifts from lobbyists.
ABC 17 asked Senator Munzlinger why he hasn’t signed the gift ban pledge.
“Well, I haven’t been asked, but I wouldn’t intend to because you’d be held to a different standard than everybody else, I guess,” said Munzlinger.
Rep. Wright says the blame shouldn’t fall entirely on the lawmakers nor the lobbyists.
“I think we have good people but good people who are operating in a bad system. I think we could make the system better by implementing an absolute ban on lobbyists gifts like a number of other states have done.”
Last year, Rep. Wright co-sponsored House Bill 139 which would have limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, but the legislative clock ran out in that effort.
He said he’ll re-introduce another measure to reform a system that he feels is flawed.