Since taking office in 2009, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has regularly called for stricter ethics laws for public officials – and a return of the state’s campaign-donation limits, which were repealed in 2008.
For the most part, Republican legislative leaders have supported the general idea of limiting lobbyists’ gifts or curbing the legislator-to-lobbyist revolving door. But neither the governor nor lawmakers have put much political muscle behind their proposals.
The coming legislative session – Nixon’s last before leaving office -- may be different.
In the wake of the General Assembly’s scandals over college-age interns, the new Republican leaders of the state House and Senate say they’re prepared to press for passage of stricter ethics laws.
In fact, new House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, says the ethics issue will be his top legislative priority when lawmakers return to Jefferson City in January.
Richardson particularly seeks to “limit gifts and end the lawmaker-to-lobbyist revolving door.”
Nixon’s latest proposal, laid out this week, calls for a complete ban on all lobbyist gifts – which would include the free meals often laid out on tables throughout the Capitol.
In line with the speaker’s quest, the governor also wants some sort of mandated “cooling-off’’ period for legislators who leave office and switch to new careers as lobbyists. As it stands, the Capitol halls are packed with lobbyists who used to be lawmakers.
Some of Nixon’s other proposals may not get as strong a GOP reception. Republicans – who led the charge to wipe out the state’s campaign-donation limits – generally haven’t backed the idea of putting them back in place.
Some proposals to generate controversy
Nixon also is proposing that the General Assembly consider shortening its legislative sessions, which now run from early January through mid-May. Legislative leaders had declined the idea when it was recently posed by a fellow Republican, former state Sen. John Lamping of Frontenac.
In addition, the governor called for “enacting reasonable limitations on the campaign accounts of former officeholders.”
“We need reasonable safeguards to prevent former officeholders from using the money left over in their campaign war chests to influence their former colleagues,” Nixon said.
The governor was referring, in part, to the practice of some former legislators-turned-lobbyists to use their unused campaign money to donate to certain lawmakers or political groups.
Top recipients of lobbyists’ gifts
The latest attention by Nixon and Richardson on lobbyist gifts comes as Progress Missouri, a progressive group, came out with its latest list of the top legislative recipients of lobbyists’ gifts for the first nine months of the year.
It’s a bipartisan list, with the Top 10 consisting of six Republicans and four Democrats. Several are from the St. Louis area.
The first figure is the amount of gifts that each legislator has collected, while the second figure refers to gifts to their staffs:
1. Rep. Don Gosen - $3,478.74, $168.70 (R-Chesterfield)
2. Rep. Mike Colona - $3,403.19, $50.26 (D-St. Louis)
3. Rep. Tom Flanigan - $3,243.75, $426.65 (R-Carthage)
4. Rep. Brandon Ellington - $3,209.90, $134.15 (D-Kansas City)
5. Rep. Mike Leara - $3,117.11, $342.04 (R-south St. Louis County)
6. Sen. Brian Munzlinger - $3,010.38, $1,220.57 (R-Williamstown)
7. Sen. Paul Wieland - $2,981.64, $347.60 (R-Imperial)
8. Sen. Shalonn (Kiki) Curls - $2,878.36, $479.20 (D-Kansas City)
9. Sen. Bob Dixon - $2,724.31, $234.21 (R-Springfield)
10. Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray - $2,714.12, $232.19 (D-Black Jack)