Jun 02

Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge

As an incumbent of (or candidate for) the Missouri legislature, I, ________________,                 respect the oath of office to which elected representatives swear or affirm.

I therefore pledge – if elected (or re-elected) to the General Assembly – not to accept gifts of any size from registered lobbyists, lobbying organizations, or others with a vested interest in the performance of my duties for the duration of my service as a legislator in the state of Missouri.

Missourians for Government Reform (MoReform.org) launched last December the “Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge.” Throughout the legislative session, we encouraged support for legislation limiting lobbyist gift-giving in Missouri.

Every sitting lawmaker was contacted and encouraged to sign the pledge. Only two did.

Though some lawmakers truly need to be commended, too many just didn’t care. Too many lacked the initiative to stand up to lobbyists. Too many lacked the courage to live up to their oath of office. Too many failed to see the need to change a corrupt system that benefits lawmakers without justification.

Our pledge was largely ignored. And legislation reforming the lobbyist/lawmaker relationship died.

Now Missouri citizens need to demand that legislators – and their challengers – confront this issue head on. We cannot allow any legislator to be elected in 2014 without confronting this issue.

Without trust in our lawmakers, we have nothing. If legislators are viewed as bought-and-paid-for, what hope does the average citizen have? There are lots of important issues out there – issues of pressing and dire need of attention.

But cleaning up the lobbyist/lawmaker relationship needs to be the FIRST issue. Without reform, trust is non-existent. Without trust, cynicism trumps hope; apathy squelches progress.

Every seat in the House and half of Senate is up for election this year. Challengers and incumbents must be pressed on this issue – and it needs to come from the people.

Here’s what incumbents and challengers must be asked:

1. Do you support legislation regulating lobbyist gift-giving? 35 states already do. Why shouldn’t Missouri? If not, why not?
2. Will you sign the Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge?

If Missouri voters make this an issue, lawmakers will be pressed to take a stand. They’ll be forced to either support massive reform of the lobbyist/lawmaker dynamic, or rationalize behavior that puts them in the pockets of lobbyists usually at the expense of the public.

Reform will win out. But it’ll require the people – and challengers to incumbency – to initiate the change.

Apr 18

Candidate Gift-Ban Pledge

As a candidate for office in the Missouri legislature, I, ________________________, respect   the oath of office to which elected representatives swear or affirm.

I therefore pledge – if elected to the General Assembly – not to accept gifts of any size         from registered lobbyists, lobbying organizations, or others with a vested interest in             the performance of my duties for the duration of my service as a legislator in the state of Missouri.

Late last year, MoReform announced the creation of the “Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge.”  This is a pledge aimed at current office holders in the Missouri General Assembly.  Signees pledge to not accept gifts from lobbyists that have a vested interest in the performance of the lawmaker’s duties in the legislature.

As of right now, only two Missouri lawmakers have signed the pledge.  Two.

There are two pieces of encouraging news.  First, there are bills currently being debated in the General Assembly that look to either ban or regulate lobbyist gift-giving.  35 states already do this.  Missouri is one of only 15 with an “anything goes” policy with respect to lobbyist largess.

Just as encouraging has been the support shown by members of the public AND Missouri lawmakers in the goal of our pledge.  Though only two current office holders have signed the pledge, many more have supported MoReform’s efforts – at least in theory.  But for various reasons, they have still refused to sign this pledge.

Public support for this pledge and for legislation regulating lobbyist gift-giving has been strong!  And some of the most vocal public support that we’ve received has come from those seeking CANDIDACY in the Missouri legislature!  There appears to be a critical mass of office seekers that support MoReform’s efforts and understand the need to significantly (radically?) change the lawmaker/lobbyist dynamic.

Many of these challengers also apparently see the need to repair the relationship between legislator and citizen.  Perception of what goes on in the halls of the capitol is bad.  Challengers appear to understand this better than incumbents.

The current pledge is designed for sitting legislators.  Therefore, MoReform has decided to create a new pledge – this time, for CANDIDATES for political office.

As with the pledge designed for those already elected, note the emphasis on the lawmaker oath of office. This is the oath every Missouri legislator has taken since 1875:

“I do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office, and that I will not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, any money or other valuable thing for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law.”  (emphasis added).   Art. III. Section 15 Missouri Constitution.

MoReform thinks it’s important to remind everyone about this oath; to remind everyone that even in 1875 there was a concern that legislators would fall victim to those trying to buy influence with “valuable things.”

They may not have had World Series tickets or golf junkets in mind in 1875, but they still understood the corrupting influence of those looking to build cozy relationships with our public servants.

This is why signees of both pledges are asked to pledge support for this oath to God.  We are asking current – and now future – office holders to return the legislature back to the terms of this oath.

If you are a candidate for office in the Missouri legislature, we’d appreciate your support for this pledge. Just let us know and we’ll add your name to the list.  If you know of anyone running for office in the General Assembly, please pass this information on to them.

And if a candidate for office – be they incumbent or challenger –  has not signed this pledge, ask them why.

As always, we thank the public for their support.  MoReform is not doing this for itself – we’re doing this for the people of Missouri.

Dec 15

Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge

I ,____________________, am committed to my duty as an elected representative of the people of Missouri and to the oath to which I solemnly swore or affirmed.

I therefore pledge not to accept gifts of any size from registered lobbyists, lobbying organizations, or others with a vested interest in the performance of my duties for the duration of my service as a legislator in the state of Missouri. 

Enough is enough.  The time has come in Missouri for a ban on gifts to elected representatives from lobbyists.    Missourians for Government Reform (MoReform) is promoting the “Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge.”   This is a pledge by Missouri lawmakers to refuse gifts from lobbyists and others with a direct interest in the performance of a legislator’s duties.

Work in recent months by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Radio, and Kansas City Public Media – among others – have highlighted how groups with vested interests in legislative decision making have showered our lawmakers with gifts ranging from sports tickets, concert tickets, food, drink, and travel.   

The good news is that most of this information is open to the public (though much of it is cleverly hidden).  The bad news is that Missouri doesn’t have a lobbyist gift ban.  The really bad news is that groups with gifts to give – and influence to buy – have found many willing recipients of their generosity in the General Assembly.  In fact, in the last two years those not receiving gifts are currently the exception and not the rule. 

In addition to their salaries and per diem, almost all Missouri lawmakers are regularly receiving a barrage of freebies from their wealthy and politically active admirers.  Why are lobbyists being so generous?  What are they looking to buy?  And why are we letting them?

This is the current oath of office all Missouri lawmakers take:

“I do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office, and that I will not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, any money or other valuable thing for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law.”  (emphasis added).   Art. III. Section 15 Missouri Constitution.

This pledge is not addressing a unique concern.   Outside groups and individuals with special interests have always been a threat to representative democracies.   Blocking the buying of influence with money or “valuable thing(s)” was considered so important to Missourians writing our state Constitution that they included it in this lawmaker oath of office.

What the “Missouri Gift-Ban Pledge” does is simply to return our legislators to the terms of this oath.

But more importantly, it will take the very necessary first step to restoring trust in our elected representatives.  Right now, there is a gulf between those who work in Jefferson City and the people.  There is a distrust and a disgust in our elected officials that our lawmakers don’t fully – if at all – appreciate.

Suspicion in government is healthy.  Demanding that we stay ever vigilant over those in government is part of what it means to be an American.  But what exists now is an unprecedented disgust that poisons our state.  What exists now is a cynicism that has led to a massive retreat from respect in all things related to Jefferson City.  

Simply put, too many Missourians feel that our representatives are being bought and paid for.  Lawmakers need to be in it for the public service.  Not for the freebies.

It’s an unhealthy distrust that fuels a belief that our lawmakers represent the interests of a privileged class of lobbying mercenaries and not that of average citizens. It’s a perverse belief that lawmakers care more about personal gain than in serving their constituencies.  It’s a disgusting realization that ours is a corrupt system that is ethically bankrupt and no longer deserving of a voter’s time and certainly not of a voter’s respect.

We have no illusions that a massive show of support for this pledge from members of the General Assembly will suddenly change the sour relationship between the government and the governed that now exists.  But if a better relationship is to ever be possible, the first steps need to be made by those in positions of power.   They need to break this addiction to lobbyist gift-giving.

MoReform believes that this pledge represents such a step and we urge our lawmakers to sign it.

Jun 24

Shhh! The Worst $candals are the Silent Ones…

News involving the word “scandal” will provide you with over 2.6 million hits under Google.  Okay, sure, not all of it involves the Obama administration, D.C, or even the United States.  But if you’ve been paying attention these days you know it’s the “Summer-of-Scandal.”

One of the more disturbing of the national scandals involves the IRS picking on conservative groups.  Though it looks like it stops with IRS administrators, it’s still an outrageous occurrence.  Profiling anyone or any group for any reason demands suspicion.  And when it involves potential government harassment of political or ideological groups everyone should take notice.  That’s standard-operating-procedure in banana-republics.  But it should never be tolerated in the United States.

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Jun 13

Why We Should Care About the Mischief of Goodies

It’s almost become a rite of spring that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings forth an article soon after the close of the legislative session detailing the abundance of lobbyist gifts on Missouri legislators.  Such articles practically write themselves thanks to public disclosure rules via the Missouri Ethics Commission.  Comb through the database. Underscore some of the more outrageous gift giving.  Move on.

Oh, some readers might get upset, but not enough.  Most have grown accustomed to the idea that perks and goodies will end up in the hands of our representatives. It’s part of the process.  It’s always been there and it isn’t going away.  Most depressing, however, is the idea that so many of us have convinced ourselves that since it’s so engrained, it probably isn’t that big of a deal.

It is.  Here’s why:

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May 31

A Broken System: Two National Efforts Look for a Fix

Confidence in the political system is at all-time lows.  Disgust in Congress is at all-time highs and scandal grips the executive branch. Grim times for those that still care in America. But real efforts at fundamental reform exist! Yes, we’re talking national, organized, and well-funded efforts that go beyond the snake-oil being sold by the major political parties.

If you haven’t already, take a look at NoLabels.org and Rootstrikers.org.

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May 26

“It’s not healthy”

If you want cleaner political campaigns, these are dark days.  And they are only getting darker.  Oozing onto the darkness is section 501(c)4 of the tax code that theoretically sets up civic leagues (that sounds nice) and non-profit corporations to help promote “social welfare.”  Ooooo, that sounds swell!  Here’s the kicker: they’ve become havens for political donors to SECRETLY donate big bucks to political campaigns!

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Apr 03

Remember Shame? Part 2.

Well, it looks like the GOP in Missouri is keeping up with the Dems when it comes to shallow, unethical, disregard for common decency – especially when it comes to the taxpayer’s expense.  (Kinder Spends Time in St. Louis at Taxpayers Expense). As the column by Jason Sandoval below emphasized, it’s not really the amount of money that’s involved.  Kinder’s greed is not going to come close to bankrupting the state.  It’s the principle involved.  You’re a public servant.  You cannot profit from your position and it should be unconscionable of you to use your official position for fundraising and other various partisan pimping.  Shame takes a holiday, indeed.

Mar 28

Remember Shame?

Gordon Gekko in the famous movie Wall Street said, “Greed is good.”  As with greed, humans are saddled with shame on occasion.   But that’s not always a bad thing.  Like greed, I suppose, sometimes “shame is good.”  Shame keeps us from doing bad/sleezy things.  But increasingly, we’re seeing people carry on as if shame is no longer in their internal equations.  Nowhere is this more true than in politics.  Let’s look at some recent Show-Me examples:

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, fresh off his push for a “code of ethics” among County employees, finds no shame in hiring the son of his former chief of staff, John Temporiti.   Despite the County’s supposed “hiring freeze”, 27-year old Mike Temporiti landed a $70,000 job with the county.  Should Mr. Dooley feel shame?  Ah, the shameful-devil appears in the shameful-details:

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Feb 08

Who’s Going to Pay for My F@#%ing Sushi?!

 

 

A baby step of sorts was taken toward needed reform last week when the Democratic National Committee announced that the Democrats wouldn’t be taking corporate, PAC, or lobbyist money to fund their national convention in Charlotte next year.  Sounds good especially since it fulfills a campaign pledge by President Obama.

Though such a change in tact is needed – and appreciated – it’s more show than real reform.  Though national convention hosting committees usually take in tons of cash from corporate fat cats, this change in policy does NOTHING to stop these same deep-pocketed contributors from continuing their assault on state parties and their money-hungry delegations.

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