Jefferson City is a mess. To get the kind of public policy Missouri families deserve we must start with fundamental reform in the way Jefferson City does business. And that begins with reforming the ethical environment.Nowhere is ethical reform more needed than in the relationship between our representatives and the represented. Too many in elected positions in Missouri are beholden to lobbyists and special interests and not to everyday people. As a result, they cannot – or will not – relate to the interests and concerns of ordinary families. Want access to your elected official? In Missouri you often take a back seat to big-moneyed interests.
Real ethics reform in Jefferson City will have two lasting effects: First, with ethics reform those who serve in the General Assembly for their own personal gain will give way to those with the best interests of Missourians in mind. In will be more public servants, out will be greed-driven politicians.
Second, with ethics reform the public will slowly begin to care about – and trust - state government again. With more Missourians participating, more voices will be heard in the public policy debate. And Missourians can finally get the responsible government that they deserve.
Here is a three-step start toward cleaning up Missouri government:
1. Gift Ban
We need legislation that will completely outlaw all gifts between lobbyists and our representatives. This “legal bribery” has become a common and accepted occurrence in our capitol – and it only results in perverting the democratic process. Gone should be the free meals, free trips, and free baseball tickets. Restored must be the common sense and the ethical conscience found in the state Constitution:
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.
Article III, Section 15
This is the oath of office all elected representatives must take. Note the part that is in bold. It has been in the Missouri Constitution since 1875! This very simple principle has been ignored. Representatives get paid by the Missouri taxpayers. They shouldn’t receive anything else of value from anyone else – particularly not from lobbyists.
2. Return Campaign Finance Limits to Voter-Approved Levels
Missouri voters in 1994 overwhelming approved limits on campaign donations. The Missouri General Assembly defied the people and completely eliminated these limits in 2008. We need legislation restoring these voter-approved limits. We need to give the people back this powerful check upon campaign donation corruption!
Missouri representatives had a choice a few years ago with respect to campaign limitations. There are many states with a history of very fair and enforceable limits that level the campaign playing field. But instead of following the lead of these states, Missouri decided to look to our neighbor to the east – Illinois – as an example!
There are many reasons why Illinois is considered one of the most corrupt states in the nation. One of those reasons is its history of “no-holds-barred” campaign finance allowances. It is disgraceful that Missouri has followed the lead of the “Land of Blagojevich.”
3. Ban Work for Lobbying Firms While Serving as a Representative –
and for Five Years After Leaving Office.
It is amazing that this isn’t just common sense in Jefferson City: Elected representatives should not work for lobbying firms. Legislator or lobbyist. You can be one. But not both. The ethical culture in Jefferson City has sunk so low that the General Assembly removed virtually all limits on representatives working for lobbyists! As incredible as it sounds, we actually have had sitting legislators on the payroll of lobbying firms. We need to end this unholy marriage between special interest lobbying and elected representation.
But we need to go further. We need to ban the revolving door that exists between special interests and government. Gone should be the possibility of elected officials jumping from the state’s payroll onto the payroll of the lobbying industry. Currently, Missouri ranks 5th in the nation in number of legislators-turned-lobbyists! We need a law barring former elected officials from state lobbying for at least five years after leaving office.
- John Messmer