Ethics reform takes center stage on Inauguration Day as Greitens signs executive order

Rep. Alferman presents HB60 on Lobbyist Expenditures before the House Committee on General Laws.  (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Photojournalist)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov.-elect Eric Greitens’ first order as the head of Missouri will be to bring ethics reform to his new office.

“We just promised the people of Missouri that we’re going to get to work, and now, we’re here to get to work,” Greitens said. “We promised in this campaign that we were going to do differently. We promised we were going to clean up the culture of corruption in Jefferson City. We’ve done exactly what we said we were going to do.”

The new governor signed an executive order immediately after the inauguration ceremonies, saying they had promised to get to work immediately.

“This executive order sets a powerful example,” he said. “As governor, I’m to always hold myself and my team to the highest possible standards. For the first time in Missouri history, we banned gifts from lobbyists to state employees in the executive branch.”

“We’ve also slammed shut the revolving door between the governor’s office and lobbyists,” Greitens continued. “No one who has worked in my administration will ever lobby me… period.”

Greitens’ senior adviser Austin Chambers spoke with media prior to the inauguration ceremonies, saying that the executive order would “completely ban lobbyist gifts from the executive branch of the government” and stop anyone who has served in the governor’s office from leaving and becoming an executive lobbyist “as long as Eric is there.”

“This is the first and important step in cleaning up Jefferson City and for taking Missouri in a new direction,” Greitens finished.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield noted it was not rare for governors to instruct executive branch officials how they should handle themselves.

He also pointed to an executive order from the Department of Insurance prohibiting employees within the office from directly accepting gifts, travel, and meals, similar to the executive order signed by Greitens.

“Generally, the governor has the power to enter executive orders for employees under his control, but he doesn’t have authority to change the law,” Hatfield said.

The governor’s executive orders affect only those that work under him, so most departments and employees that work under other elected officials are not bound by those orders.

One of Greitens’ first concrete policy proposals came last January during his campaign and it involved ethics reform. Some of those proposals were passed by the General Assembly last year, but Greitens has promised to become even more expansive on ethics reform with the aforementioned gift ban, but also a stricter “revolving door” law to prevent legislators from becoming lobbyists, and term limits for all elected officials in the state.

These events appear to show the legislature and the new chief executive of Missouri are on the same page when it comes to priorities.

Just hours before Greitens was scheduled to be sworn in as the 56th governor of Missouri, the House Committee on General Laws held its first hearing of the 2017  legislative session.

Legislators heard testimony on Rep. Justin Alferman’s bill that bans gifts from lobbyists for state public officials, with a few exemptions for thing like flowers and plants, returned items and speaking fees. Alferman filed a bill with similar language last year, but it was stonewalled by the Missouri Senate which wanted to instead simply limit lobbyist gifts. It passed through the committee easily.

Speaker Todd Richardson made it a point in his opening remarks last week that ethics reform would be the first bill out of the House. He noted the importance of building the trust of the people.

“This is our time to restore the belief and faith that everyone has the opportunity to build a great life for themselves,” Richardson said during his speech. “The time for half-measures and solutions around the edges is over. This is the time for bold action.”

Benjamin Peters contributed to this report.

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