Debate on ethics bill stalls in Mo. Senate

Jefferson City, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers have been touting ethics reform as one of their top priorities for this year's legislative session.

But passing an ethics bill is proving not to be so easy, as a major ethics reform bill stalled today in the State Senate.

The first round of debate began with President Pro-tem Charlie Shields (R, St. Joseph) announcing that his ethics bill had undergone some changes. It now includes a ban on most committee-to-committee money transfers.

"This notion of money flowing through multiple committees and losing its identity along the way, I think, is very troubling to folks that are trying to understand where the money comes from in politics," Shields said from the floor of the Missouri Senate.

However, violating that provision would not be a criminal offense under the Senate bill, as it would be under the House bill.

Shields' bill would also make it a crime for one lawmaker to work for another as a political consultant, and it would expand the definition of a lobbyist.

Another new provision would require lawmakers who receive donations of more than $250 during the legislative session to report them electronically to the State Ethics Commission within 48 hours. It replaces an earlier provision that would have barred all donations during legislative sessions.

State Senator Joan Bray (D, St. Louis) argued that real reform can't take place without placing limits on campaign contributions.

"Because we don't have limits, I think that's where you're going to see a lot of big numbers moving...I think candidate committees will become (money) laundering committees," Bray told Shields during debate.

Shields disagreed. He maintains that campaign contribution limits don't add transparency to politics.

First-round debate rules also allow for amendments to be added on, and debate stalled after State Senator Jason Crowell (R, Cape Girardeau) announced his intent to offer multiple amendments.

One of those amendments would bar lawmakers from working as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.