Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL110.PRB - A Possible Rain Making Session«MDNM»
Missouri's legislative session has begun on a note of partisan politics that suggests political campaigns will be a dominate undercurrent for the election-year session.
And that opens the possibility of rain-making -- of pushing issues that generate special interest money.
What did you expect, skeptics in the statehouse have asked me. Election-year sessions often are dominated by politics.
House Speaker Tim Jones' opening day address struck me as telling. While it cited long-term GOP efforts, it covered issues pushed by special interests with deep pockets to spend on lobbying and campaign contributions.
With Jones' focus on sweeping tax cuts, easing regulation of business and expanding school choice, it sounded like a speech that could have been written by billionaire Rex Sinquefield who has dumped so much money into political campaigns and ballot issue initiatives in the past.
Realize, Missouri has lower restrictions on special interest money than any other state in country. Our state is unique in having no limits on how much a person like Sinquefield can give to a politician's campaign combined with no limit on how much a lobbyist can give to a legislator.
It's suggestive, maybe, that one of the first House committee meetings for 2014 was not scheduled for a formal legislative hearing room. It was not even scheduled to be held in any government building.
Rather, it was scheduled at a nearby bar and restaurant for dinner time.
A few years ago, I assigned a reporter to cover one of these off-site sessions held at the local country club funded by a lobbyist. Initially blocked from entrance because she was not a club member, she eventually got in after club staff contacted the committee chair.
Inside, she found no public business being discussed. Instead, she just saw members eating and drinking in the exclusive club.
Wining and dining an entire legislative committee is one of the tricks lobbyists have discovered to avoid identifying the specific legislators who benefit from their gifts.
State law requires a lobbyist to disclose the name of a legislator who gets something from the lobbyist. But if the expenditure is for an entire legislative committee, only the committee's name has to be reported in the formal expenditure reports with the state without any legislator being named.
Last year, for example, lobbyists reported spending more than $10,000 for the House Budget Committee that write's the state's budget. Expenditures included "tickets, meals and beverages." But there was no indication as to which legislators actually enjoyed the food, drinks and sporting game tickets that were provided.
It is so pervasive that one House committee hearing room regularly is used to lay out breakfast food brought in by various special interests.
This kind of conduct has been going on for years. But this year there's the potential that the rain-making could be unusually high.
It's not just the tax and school-choice issues pushed by Sinquefield.
Right to work legislation to prohibit all union shops, business tax breaks and changes in tax credits for real estate developers are among the issues for this legislative session that can trigger extensive lobbying and special interest money for both Republicans and Democrats.
I must confess that I write this column with some trepidation for fear that it suggests Missouri's legislature is populated by a bunch of greedy politicians lusting for special interest money.
I do not think that is the case, at all.
Over the decades, I have found the vast majority of Missouri's elected legislators to be dedicated public servants who make tremendous sacrifices spending time away from home, family and their jobs to debate and adopt public policy about which they feel deeply.
But this all is done in an environment in which special interest efforts and spending have become a growlingly pervasive part of the legislative and political environment.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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