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Jones backs GOP ethics package, including disclosing nonprofit donors

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 30, 2012 - The push to make politically active nonprofits disclose their donors is gaining a notable ally: House Speaker Tim Jones.

The Eureka Republican is signing off on a wide-ranging ethics bill pitched by two Republican lawmakers that includes prompting 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups engaged in Missouri-based races to disclose donors. Reps. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, told the Beacon last week that they were formulating legislation on the issue.

“A strong ethics reform package will be a priority this year and I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance legislation that will improve the level of transparency and accountability in the political process,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones’ press release included a reference to “provisions that would ensure Missourians have full disclosure of the source of all campaign contributions by requiring all organizations to disclose their financial backers.” Jones was not available for comment on Friday, but Barnes told the Beacon that statement was a reference to the pair’s push to make politically active 501(c)(4)s disclose donors.

A 501(c)(4) is a nonprofit organization that can engage in direct political activity. Since those groups don’t need to make their donation sources public, they’ve become conduits for big contributors to try to make an impact while staying anonymous.

While these groups spurred much attention on a federal level, a number of 501(c)(4) groups got involved in some state-based races.

In addition, Jones’ statement expressed support for prohibiting lawmakers from serving as political consultants, outlawing campaign solicitations on state property; and preventing public office holders “from offering bribes in the form of employment or appointments in order to influence public policy decisions.”

And Jones joined Richardson and Barnes expressing support for revisiting elements of 2010 legislation thrown out earlier this year on procedural grounds. That bill included curbs on shuffling contributions through multiple political action committees and more power to the Missouri Ethics Commission to investigate wrongdoing.

“We have the opportunity to provide Missourians added confidence in the process and in the men and women they elect to represent them,” Jones said. “We have major issues to tackle this session with our efforts to boost our economy and improve the quality of the education our children receive, and we also will focus some time and attention on ethics reforms that are necessary to give Missourians the level of transparency they need and deserve from our political system.”

House Democrats unveiled an ethics package earlier this week that included 501(c)(4) disclosure requirements and prohibitions on legislators serving as a political consultants. Among other things, state Rep. Kevin McManus' proposal also called for limits on campaign contributions, curbs on lobbyist gifts and waiting periods for legislators to become lobbyists.

Slay backs local disclosure push

Meanwhile, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay reiterated his support for Alderman Lyda Krewson’s bill that would prompt 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) groups involved in races for mayor, Board of Aldermen president, comptroller or a local ballot initiative to disclose donors. The 28th Ward Democrat’s bill advanced out of a Board of Aldermen committee earlier this week.

“I think it’s important if you’re going to have someone give campaign contributions to your campaign – anybody – I think it’s fair that the public ought to know where the money’s coming from,” said Slay on Thursday, who endorsed the proposal earlier this month. “It’s just that simple. Full disclosure.”

Krewson’s bill doesn’t encompass aldermanic elections, although she said she wouldn’t be opposed to expanding the bill to include them. Slay also said he would support bolstering the proposal’s scope.

“I think more disclosure’s fine,” he said. “More openness is the way to go.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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