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House Democrats look to hold Greitens accountable with ethics bills

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – House Democrats are looking to hold Gov. Eric Greitens accountable on his repeated promises to “drain the swamp” and rid Missouri of “politics as usual.”

The minority party filed six bills that appeared before the House General Laws Committee Tuesday night, aimed at addressing issues of corruption in the state government. Each one addressed issues that the governor had spoken to during the campaign, with the bill sponsors citing the Republican outsider rhetoric as the source for the inspiration.

Rep. Kip Kendrick
Rep. Kip Kendrick

“The impetus for this bill really came as the election proceeded. We saw a lot of slick advertisements that talked about rooting out corruption and ridding the Capitol of corrupt career politicians,” Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said. “The people spoke, not only this state but across the nation. There’s a lack of trust that the people have in how the processes unfold here at the Capitol.”

Kendrick filed HB 217, which serves as an omnibus measure containing certain pieces of the other five bills appearing before the committee.

“The bill before you is a collection of promises that were made throughout the campaign. HB 217 is a comprehensive and aggressive anti-corruption package aimed at ending politics as usual,” Kendrick said. “The provisions included in this measure such as the revolving-door ban, family enrichment, and the lobbyist gift ban are the types of practices that cause Missourians to question our ethical standards. Missourians demand action and House Democrats are serious about pushing an aggressive anti-corruption package through this year.”

Those five provisions, based on House Bills 212-216, address the following:

Rep. Deb Lavender
Rep. Deb Lavender

HB 212, sponsored by Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, seeks to establish a ban on gifts or services from lobbyists for statewide elected officials, lawmakers, staff, employees, and family. It also prohibits donations of food, lodging, travel, and entertainment purposes.

“We have an oath that we take, which says ‘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.’ It occurs to me that meals kind of fit in that category,” Lavender said.

HB 213, sponsored by Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, would increase the mandatory waiting period on lawmakers seeking to become lobbyists from the current six months to five years.

Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City said he liked the bill, though he had voted against the revolving-door ban in 2016, which put a six-month ban in place.

“I voted against that bill mostly because I knew that my constituents back at home would consider that to be kind of a joke, really. I think going to five years makes a lot of sense,” Carpenter said.

Adams says the bill used the words of Greitens, who had suggested implementing either a five-year-ban or a year-for-year ban, meaning for every year of service, they would be required to wait that long before lobbying.

Rep. Robert Cornejo
Rep. Robert Cornejo

Rep. Robert Cornejo, the chairman of the General Laws Committee, said that five years seemed a bit much, and wasn’t aware of any states that do more than two years for the ban, or whether a five-year ban would be considered constitutional.

“My understanding, while doing research for my bill on a two-year cooling off period, is that if you’re going to do this for the entire state, then the largest time period you’re able to do is two years,” he said. Cornejo also said that, as he has pointed out to the committee before, he is not “lockstep” in line with Greitens, and that the separation of powers give the governor the power to either sign or veto whatever bills are sent to his desk.

HB 214, sponsored Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, would prohibit using and transferring campaign funds to the relatives of candidates.

HB 215, sponsored by Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, would require former candidates to dissolve their campaign committees to prevent them using leftover campaign funds to benefit their businesses.

HB 216, sponsored by Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, would allow the Missouri Ethics Commission to prosecute criminal cases and initiate civil cases if the Attorney General declines criminal prosecution or civil enforcement, aligning the Missouri Ethics Commission with the authorities granted by the passage of Amendment 2 in November.

Kendrick’s HB 217 also includes a provision that would ban campaign contributions when the legislature is in session to avoid the appearance of “pay to play.”

The Committee also heard two other bills in the hearing, which lasted two hours and 42 minutes.

HB 229, sponsored by Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, would prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to local government officials.

HB 150, sponsored by Rep. Tom Hurst, R-Meta, would exempt individuals who are not paid by lobbyist principals from being required to register as a lobbyist and thus be subjected to the reporting requirements.

All of the representatives said that they were open to amendments, and would work with the committee to see these bills moved through to put more ethics reform bills before the General Assembly.

Cornejo said that he intends to meet with the bill sponsors and the House Minority leadership to work with them.

“I like how the minority party broke it down into individual bills, but then also created an omnibus bill. It will be the will of the committee and the will of the House that decides which ones move forward,” Cornejo said.