JEFFERSON CITY _ When President Bill Clinton challenged Congressmen to just say no to lobbyists, he may have struck a chord with the American public _ but not with several Missouri state legislators.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Missouri's legislature rejected the idea of saying no to the lobbyist offers of gifts, food or drink.
``It is an unfair oversimplification that lobbyists wield power everywhere,'' said Minority Floor Leader, Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. ``It is a popular concept among the people, however, I think the President has distorted the picture.''
Michael Zane Yates, R-Oakville, concurred saying the President was vague. ``What is a gift? There is nothing a lobbyist could give me that would give him leverage over me,'' Yates said. ``This is a Congressional problem. In Missouri, anything state legislators receive is public record.''
Rep. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, agreed that gifts are not an issue at the state level. ``Perceptions may be distorted and the media distorts the influence of lobbyists' influence,'' he said.
Gifts and campaign funding from lobbyists is not a new issue in Missouri.
Over the years, lawmakers have passed laws requiring detailed disclosure reports from lobbyists on how much they're handing out and to whom.
Just last year, the legislature imposed a ban on campaign contributions to legislators during session. The bill also limits maximum contributions from one source.
Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, described that bill as an important part of the debate on lobbyists. ``Are any gifts appropriate? I don't think they have a great influence on individual decisions,'' Gaw said. ``But the public perception is that influence exists and we need to address that.''
There was not a consensus as to who the President was addressing. ``This was not a challenge to those of us in public office, but to those in the media,''Jacob said. ``If politicians got free air time there would be less need for campaign contributions.''
But lobbyist Dave Overfelt of the Missouri Retailers Association says that lobby groups serve the important purpose of making it impossible for legislators not to listen. ``A group like the NRA is effective on the state level because it has deep grass roots support, not because of money.'' Overfelt said.
``Every group belongs to some type of lobby, even churches. We are working for the common good of what we believe in and we are sources of information more than anything else.''
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