Missouri General Assembly
4:40 pm
Sun August 17, 2014

When It Comes To Gifts, Lobbyists Don't Discriminate By Party

Credit St. Louis Public Radio

The 2014 legislative session was historically one of the most expensive sessions. At least for lobbyists.

In the first six months of this year, lobbyists spent $673,062 on gifts (most of them meals) for the Missouri legislature. Taking a look at the past decade's worth of data, this is the second highest year on record. The most expensive year was in 2013, when legislators accepted $749,994 in the first half of the year.

The average cost of a gift this year was $102.65, which is roughly on par with prior years.

A Party To Which They're All Invited

A question I get asked a lot is, "So which party is accepting all of these gifts?" (And most of the time, the person asking is a partisan hoping that the other party is taking them in.)

But the truth is, accepting lobbyists' gifts is as bipartisan as it gets in the Missouri legislature.

This year, Republicans accepted 68 percent of the gifts that went to an individual or a party, while Democrats accepted the remaining 32 percent. At the end of the session, Republicans held 131 of the 191 seats in the legislature (there were six vacancies), which works out to the GOP holding just shy of 69 percent of the seats. That's about as even as it can get.

Hiding The Recipient

Of course, it's important to keep in mind that gifts that go to individuals make up only a small sliver of the hundreds of thousands spent in gifts. Most of the gifts go toward groups in the legislature -- a group could be the entire House or the entire Senate or a specific committee -- and groups don't disclose which lawmakers actually received the gift.

This year, 76 percent of the money spent on gifts went to groups, a greater percentage than from the past seven years. For reference, 64 percent went to groups last year.

As we've reported before, the one thing that’s supposed to separate a group expenditure from an individual is the invitation to all the members. But in practice, the Missouri Ethics Commission doesn’t even ask for proof that every member was actually invited.

It allows for some dubious disclosures.

For example, lobbyists paid $331.67 for drinks and snacks to Rep. Paul Wieland's office this session. But the disclosures don't count the gifts as going to Wieland. Instead, the Missouri Insurance Coalition says the gifts were for the insurance policy committee, of which Wieland is the vice chair. Other similar examples can be found throughout the data: $1,091 worth of fruit and pastries for state Rep. John Diehl's office but disclosed as going to the House Majority Caucus; $926 for fruit in state Sen. Tom Dempsey's office that's disclosed as going to the "entire Missouri Senate."

It's also a common tactic for expensive meals. This year alone, lobbyists paid for more than $116,000 worth of dinners without naming the people who ate the meal.

This particular issue has been a rallying point for those who want to reform Missouri's no limits lobbying system. So far, the legislature hasn't shown much appetite for it.

Five Biggest Recipients

Keeping in mind that most spending goes toward committees or groups, here are the five state legislators who have received the most in gifts this year:

  1. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, $4,209.13 Biggest gift: Cotton Bowl tickets worth $900
  2. Sen. Kiki Curls, $3,427.81 Biggest gift: "food and drinks for school group" worth $900
  3. Sen. Ryan Silvey, $3,051.85 Biggest gift: $250 for a meal
  4. Sen. Brian Munzlinger, $3,015.05 Biggest gift: Cotton Bowl ticket worth $450
  5. Rep. Jeff Roorda, $2,955.04 Biggest gift: Four Tickets to the Cardinals vs. Braves game worth $1,172

The 14 Lawmakers Who Didn't Take Any Gifts This Year

Representatives:

  • Mike Lair
  • Donna Pfautsch
  • Kevin McManus
  • John Wright
  • Bill Otto
  • Mary Nichols
  • Jill Schupp
  • Jeanne Kirkton
  • Bill White

Senators:

  • Scott Sifton
  • Mike Kehoe
  • Will Kraus
  • Jay Wasson
  • John Lamping

Note: As we explain in our methodology, we count all gifts going to a lawmaker's staff as going to that corresponding lawmaker.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel