Jan 18

MO House Bans Lobbyist Gift-Giving. Up to MO Senate to Defend Bribery Again.

Image result for bribery

For the second year in a row, the Missouri House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a legislative ban on lobbyist gift-giving. If passed into law, Missouri would become the 36th state to restrict lobbyist gift-giving.

Now the bill (HB60) heads to the Missouri Senate where similar legislation died a painful death.

Missouri is currently only one of 15 states with no limits on lobbyist gift-giving. Somehow, such a distinction was acceptable to a majority of Missouri Senators last year.

Will 2017 different?  Or will the Missouri Senate once again be the lone defender of lobbyist bribery and actions so blatantly in conflict with the Missouri legislative oath of office.

Take the high road for once, Missouri Senate. Finally say no to bribery, and yes to your oath.

Dec 22

Say “Yes” to the Oath. Say “No” to Lobbyist Gifts.

If at first… or second… or third… you don’t succeed….

For the fourth year in a row, Missourians for Government Reform will be encouraging the enactment of a lobbyist gift-giving ban. Last year the General Assembly came close. Legislation essentially banning lobbyist gifts quickly passed in the House only to die a painful death in the Senate.

MoReform is hopeful that 2017 is finally the year.

Unlike past years, we will not be encouraging legislators to sign a “pledge.” Instead, we’ll be reminding them that such a ban is already found in the legislative oath of office:

“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.

Since 1875 Missouri elected representatives have needed to swear to this oath upon entrance to the General Assembly. A common sense reading of the oath prohibits legislators from accepting gifts from anyone with an interest in gaining political influence. By definition, political influence is what lobbyists desire.

Receipt of “any money or other valuable thing” from lobbyists must therefore be prohibited.

But astonishingly, Missouri is still one of 15 states that allow unlimited lobbyist gift-giving.  Meals? Trips? World Series tickets? It’s all allowed. This is a corruption. And it must be eliminated.

MoReform takes seriously this and all other acts that corrode public confidence in the republic. Eliminating these acts of legalized bribery is a good first step to regaining the public trust. We at MoReform will be keeping a careful eye on the progress of this legislation.

Below are links to the current list of bills dealing with lobbyist gift-giving:

HB60

HB212

HB229 (Deals with gifts to LOCAL government officials)

SB2

SB59

SB202

-John P. Messmer

Jan 20

Powerful Gift-Ban Bill Passes in the House. Heads to Senate.

UPDATE (1/27/16): Missouri House passes HB 2166 overwhelmingly 147-12.  Now heads to the Senate. 

It’s ridiculously too early to celebrate anything yet, but a surprisingly powerful lobbyist gift-ban bill has been unanimously passed by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability. The bill will now (Wednesday, January 20th) be debated by the full House.

HB2166 would ban all gifts from lobbyists (with just a few minor exceptions) to state legislators, their immediate families, and their staff. Right now, Missouri is one of only 15 states with no limits whatsoever on what a lobbyist can give an elected official.

Passage of this bill would catapult Missouri into the company of 12 other states with zero tolerance for lobbyist influence-buying through gift-giving.  Twenty-three other states allows gifts, but with limits.

The bill has a long way to go and will certainly find some hostility in the full House. If it passes there, it faces a similar up-hill climb in the Senate.

Still, the committee’s unanimous recommendation is encouraging. This is the furthest such a proposed ban has ever progressed in the General Assembly.

You can find a link to the bill’s text – as well as details regarding it’s progress – here: HB2166.

Dec 28

Missouri Lobbyist Gift-Ban Pledge

I , ___________________, declare my support for legislation to restrict – or to ban outright – gifts of any size from registered lobbyists, lobbying organizations, or others with a vested interest in the performance of my duties as a member of the Missouri General Assembly.

Missourians for Government Reform is promoting the above pledge among all members of the Missouri General Assembly.

For the past two years we have promoted efforts to ban, restrict – or at least strongly discourage – lobbyist gift-giving in the legislature.  This current pledge aims to build support for legislation in the 2016 legislative session to restrict the practice.

Missouri is one of only 15 states with no restrictions.  We feel that this must change.

Lobbyists don’t shower our representatives with gifts for no reason.  They do so to sway opinion and to build relationships with our legislators in order to make their case. This ability to influence legislation through gift-giving is a luxury most Missourians do not enjoy.  Thus, we feel that this practice perverts the democratic process and perpetuates the perception that legislators are for sale.

Moreover, we feel that it is a gross violation of the Missouri legislator’s oath of office:

“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.

Missourians for Government Reform 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.

We are asking our current office holders to return the legislature back to the terms of this oath.

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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