MEC advisory opinions clarify Clean Missouri amendment

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A lawmaker accepting a ticket to a professional baseball game to throw the ceremonial first pitch? Legal. A lawmaker accepting an engraved award plaque for services as an elected official? Violation of the Missouri Constitution — provided the plaque costs more than $5.

In answering a slew of questions posed on the voter-approved Clean Missouri Amendment, the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) outlined how lawmakers should handle a variety of situations.

Last week, the MEC issued three advisory opinions on the alterations made to Article III, Section 2 of the Missouri Constitution.

In November, Missourians approved a sweeping ethics overhaul, often referred to as Clean Missouri. The Constitutional Amendment limited lobbyist gifts to $5 and instituted a two year waiting period between an elected official’s time in office and becoming a lobbyist, among other provisions.  

Those involved in Missouri politics poised to the MEC a variety of questions on what the limitations to the new amendment is — basically, seeking a list of dos and don’ts.  

In one opinion, the commission noted the so-called cooling off period only applies to Missouri lawmakers lobbying in Missouri.

“[T]he question of whether a person may be a lobbyist in a different state is a question that can only be answered by reference to the applicable laws of that state,” the advisory opinion states.

The other two advisory opinions issued last week answer a variety of scenarios on what lawmakers can accept in terms of “gifts.”

However, Article III, Section 2 is silent in many significant aspects, according to the MEC. While Chapter 105 of Missouri statute, which governs lobbyist reporting, do not directly govern the Constitution’s gift restriction, the commission’s opinions regarding the application of Article III, Section 2 were, in part, informed by the relevant definitions in Chapter 105, RSMo.

As stated in both opinions, “unless the restriction in Article III, Section 2 is applied in a manner that corresponds with the transparency and disclosure objectives in Chapter 105, RSMo, both provisions could be frustrated by the result. We should want the transparency inherent in our established lobbyist reporting system to be consistent with the Constitution’s new gift-limitation prohibition.”

The MEC made clear in the relevant opinions that it was solely addressing the narrow circumstances of each question.

For example, according to the MEC, lawmakers should avoid free health services, such as eye exams, blood pressure screenings, and acupuncturist treatments, offer in the Capitol rotunda.

“Even though your question states that these services are provided for free under these specific circumstances, they have a value which must be considered in this context,” the opinion states.

A different questions poised to the committee asked if lawmakers can rely on the “representation of the lobbyist as to the value of the offered item” if they are unsure of the value.

In answering the question, the MEC advised lawmakers to “to use common sense and reasonableness.” Though, if they doubt the represented value, the lawmaker can independently verify.