Governor’s stadium plan leads to another proposed change in ethics laws

Jan 28, 2016

Two more ethics bills are headed to the Missouri Senate after passing through the House today. That makes six that have gone on to the Senate. 

These are both sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, and fit into a stated legislative goal of improving government oversight and accountability.

The first of Barnes’ bills (HB2203) would modify existing rules for campaign money by requiring that any investments be made only in immediately liquid funds. Barnes says this will ensure campaign money is used for campaigning, instead of being funneled into businesses or hedge funds. 

The second bill (HB2226) has a more specific target: Gov. Jay Nixon and his special task force that recommended a new NFL stadium for the St. Louis Rams, partially funded by taxpayers.

A group that worked on the doomed stadium plan has prompted a proposed ethics law.
Credit Courtesy of HOK

“A person who serves in a position of public trust should never use that position for private profit,” said Barnes when he introduced his bill to the House. “This bill would protect taxpayers, because these task forces, if they’re recommending the spending of taxpayer dollars, they ought not turn around and get money themselves.”

The special task force’s proposal was rendered moot after NFL owners voted to allow the Rams to move to Los Angeles. The discord over Nixon’s handling of the situation, however, remains.

Much of the conflict surrounds the governor’s failure to seek support from the legislature as the project progressed. Barnes suggests Gov. Nixon and his task force relied on the legal opinion of a bond council to sidestep lawmakers’ approval. He is calling on officials to release the letter that documents that legal opinion to the public. 

“I don’t think that letter says what the Governor claims it says,” said Barnes. “There is a really simple way to prove me wrong. If the governor says that bond council told his office this plan could go forward without any action of the legislature, all he has to do is release that letter. Just show us the letter, Governor.”

Barnes’ ethics bills were passed out of the House in under an hour, receiving little to no debate. They are not yet on the Senate calendar. 

The governor has still not released the documents called into question.

Mallory Daily is an intern at the State Capitol Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports