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.