Lawmakers call for more government transparency during Sunshine Week


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The calls for more government transparency continue to ring out through the Missouri Capitol as the state recognizes Sunshine Week.

The annual nationwide initiative seeks to remind lawmakers and government officials to renew their commitments to the state’s open records and government transparency laws.

“Missourians have long agreed that government should operate with transparency and accountability and that the people’s business must be conducted in full view of its citizens,” State Auditor Nicole Galloway said. “A government that operates in the shadows does a disservice to its people, and that’s what the Sunshine Law was designed to prevent.”

Galloway and her office have highlighted issues in government transparency, having released a report last fall that found just 30% of local governments across the state complied with the Sunshine Law. Galloway called the results “extremely disappointing”.

“The Sunshine Law is about more than allowing citizens to see how government operates. It’s about inviting them to be a part of the process,” Auditor Galloway said. “Sunshine Week is an important reminder that public officials at all levels of government have a shared responsibility to uphold this commitment to transparency.”

The calls for transparency have been loud in recent weeks, with questions being asked about the funding used for Gov. Eric Greitens’ inaugural celebration, dark money contributions to his gubernatorial campaign, or how he has been paying for flights.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star editorial boards joined together just last week to call on Greitens to “stop governing in the dark.”

“We feel so strongly about the governor’s lack of transparency and repeated attempts to evade the Missouri news media that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Kansas City Star are publishing this joint editorial, hoping Greitens will change course.”

Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, has been an outspoken advocate of government transparency in his first term as a state legislator. He filed legislation earlier in the session which would require future governors to publicly disclose the donations given for inauguration activities and who provided the donations.

But the calls for transparency are not just directed at the governor.

This week, Ellebracht called on the Senate’s President Pro Tem Ron Richard to be transparent in his dealings regarding SB 5 and a major political donor.

Following the House’s approval of legislation aimed at stopping out-of-state plaintiffs from bringing lawsuits to Missouri to get more favorable rulings, Ellebracht said he thought the legislation was yet another attempt by Republicans to help a major donor whose company is facing a class-action lawsuit, saying the legislation looks a lot like “pay-to-play politics.”

Richard has filed similar legislation in the Senate, and when asked by an Associated Press reporter to respond to the comments at a press availability last week, Richard responded.

“Tell him to kiss my ass.”

Ellebracht penned a letter to Richard on Tuesday, concerning a $200,000 in donations to Richard from David Humphreys, a businessman from Joplin and major contributor to Republican campaigns. Humphreys owns TAMKO Building Products Inc., which is currently is facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly selling shoddy shingles.

In his written response, Ellebracht called on Richard to disclose a number of things, including discussions, counsel, notes concerning SB 5 prior to its drafting and filing, as well as any discussions between Humphreys and himself about the legislation.

“Missourians deserve to know if their government is for sale,” Ellebracht wrote. “If you decline to publicly clear the air concerning the connection between Mr. Humphreys’ contributions and your pursuit of legislation favorable to his interests, Missourians naturally will conclude that you have something to hide.”

“My goal is, as it has been, regardless of party or political ideology, the citizens deserve a transparent government,” Ellebracht told the Missouri Times. “I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative; if you’re doing something nefarious within the mechanisms of the power of government, the public has a right to know.”

The Missouri Times reached out Tuesday to see if Sen. Richard had any comment on the letter, no response has been given at this time.

FEATURED PHOTO: Sen. President Pro Tem Ron Richard is sworn in.

You can view the letter here:

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.