JEFFERSON CITY - Amid protests from Democrats who charged the bill did not go far enough to address issues with campaign finance and lobbyist influence in Missouri politics, the Missouri House gave initial approval on Tuesday to an ethics bill which would bar lobbyists from giving meals, entertainment to most legislative caucuses.
"People can see who's giving to candidates for political office, also who's being taken to dinner or going to baseball games," said House Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, who sponsored the bill. "That information will be readily available, and by addressing the caucus system, we've taken significant steps in addressing in the problems."
The legislation also requires disclosure reports to be electronically filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission and prohibits the formation of candidate committees for the offices of Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate. The legislation's Senate companion, which is sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, passed 29-3 earlier in the legislative session.
But House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, dubbed the changes in Dempsey's bill as "milk toast."
"If this is the only campaign finance bill we're going to have, it's really unfortunate that we're blowing this opportunity," Harris said.
Harris criticized Dempsey on the House floor for not including provisions which would ban fundraising during the legislative session, bar lobbyists from paying for out-of-state travel for lawmakers and prohibit appointees by the governor from making contributions to political campaigns.
"I think that taxpayers would probably assume that current climate, that campaign finance reform bill that we would pass would be tough, comprehensive and aggressive," Harris said. "This bill just has a few small ideas in it."
Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, echoed Harris' sentiments.
"I don't think it's genuine as it could be," Shoemyer said. "I think it continues with the status quo."
Democrats were caught off guard by the House Majority Leader's move, who brought the bill out of order. Rules adopted by the House last year bar lawmakers from offering amendments unless they are submitted in writing ahead of debate.
But House Republicans subsequently blasted Harris for not offering up amendments to the bill last week. Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said Harris' "outburst" was "almost uncalled for" and added that Harris "was trying to cover up his butt for not doing his job."
"He had every opportunity in the world to introduce any of the amendments he wished to that bill," Robb said. "He did not do his job, so he had to stand up and say something about it."
Robb said there was announcement last week that the bill would be taken up, giving him plenty of opportunity to offer up alternatives.
"If he was that interested in that bill, he should have filed those amendments in a timely manner," Robb said.
But Shoemyer said Democrats offered numerous amendments during the legislative session to Republican bills without success.
"It's hard to fix something without 82 in the House in the majority," Shoemyer said. "It's just an easy way for someone on the other side of the aisle to try to shift blame from the majority party, who clearly have the votes to do whatever they want."