JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As he gears up for a state senate seat race against fellow Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, pre-filed just four bills Tuesday. However, the content of the bills may make them a focal point of debate in the 2016 General Assembly.
Rowden’s bills all encompass lobbying reform. Lobbying has become a sensitive issue in Jefferson City the past year as scandals have rocked the capital and increased reporting and outcry on how candidates use lobbying firms to finance their campaigns. Others have denounced what they see as a “revolving door” between politicians and lobbyists, as politicians leave the Capitol to join lobbying firms.
The legislation Rowden has proposed seeks to change the tone of that conversation. HB 1572 would impose a ban on all lobbyist gifts for state and local elected officials, HB 1573 would put a one-year minimum time constraint on politicians becoming lobbyists, and HB 1574 would force people who decide to become lobbyists to dissolve all candidate committees before they enter into that role.
HB 1575, a less stringent measure, would require officials to disclose lodging and travel expenses paid for by a third party in a timely manner.
Rowden believes these bills will help Missourians begin to trust the government again.
“This ethics reform package represents a very clear and very simple path forward that will significantly improve Missourians’ faith in the legislative process,” Rowden said.
He is not the only one who thinks so. Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, commended Rowden for writing the legislation. He noted that legislation on this topic would likely be highly prioritized in the House.
“As I have been saying for months ethics reform will be a top priority for the House this session and will be among the first bills passed when session starts in January,” Richardson said. “I greatly appreciate Representative Rowden’s leadership in this effort as we work to improve the environment in Jefferson City and restore the public’s trust.”
President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has stated in the past his own intentions to get ethics reform bills through the Senate as well.
However, Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, thinks that Rowden’s legislation rings hollow.
“Despite being Boone County’s No. 1 recipient in lobbyist gifts in 2013, I am thrilled to see that Rep. Rowden agrees with the ban on lobbyist gifts that Democrats have sought for years,” she said. “However, Rep. Rowden’s bills fail to include any cap on contributions to political campaigns. Massive single donor contributions, which have recently gone as high as $1 million, are far more corrupting than a lobbyist dinner.”
Updated 2:47 p.m.: With Rep. Mitten’s comments.