Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some thoughts about the Tilley governmental reform proposal

I was surprised in late September when I received an e-mail from House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, saying that he wanted to have a talk with me.

As regular readers of The Turner Report know, I have written about Tilley numerous times, primarily either in regard to his acceptance of lobbyists' gifts (a practice he has discontinued) or his seeming stranglehold of power on the GOP side of the House over the self-proclaimed "most powerful man in the state of Missouri," Speaker of the House Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

When I was finally able to have a conversation with Rep. Tilley, he told me he was planning to introduce a comprehensive governmental reform bill and he was seeking input from several people who would have an interest in such a bill, including me.

He asked me to submit a wish list of things I would like to see in the bill, a list which I e-mailed to him on Saturday, October 10:

-At the top of my wish list would be to simply eliminate all gifts from lobbyists and remove the appearance of undue influence. Lobbyists would still have far more access to legislators than regular citizens due to their location and to their knowledge of how the system works.

If that cannot be done, the following suggestions could help:

-Have lobbyists' reports posted on the Missouri Ethics Commission website within 10 days of the beginning of the month during months when the legislature is not in session. This would still provide time for legislators to check reports for errors.

-Lobbyists should file weekly reports during the legislative session with legislators' given one week to check reports for errors before they are posted online.

-Lobbyists must list a client and not their lobbying firm as paying for meals, gifts, etc. John Bardgett, for example, appears to almost never buy a meal on behalf of his clients, but always on behalf of Bardgett and Associates. Other lobbyists also use this practice.

-In addition to listing all lobbyists' gifts received by a legislator, the legislator's page should also include all gifts provided to the legislator's family members and staff. The report under the lobbyist's name offers this information, but the one for the legislator does not. On many occasions, a considerable amount of money has been lavished on legislators' spouses and staff.

-Reports should offer more detail. If a lobbyist provides game tickets, the public should know which games; same thing for concerts. If a lobbyist buys a $340 meal for a legislator, the public has a right to know where the meal took place and who was there. If it is concert tickets, who is the performer. Many lobbyists provide this information, but many do not. The more open the process, the more confidence the public will have in it.

-The Missouri Ethics Commission website search function must be improved. At present, only contributions to candidates are searchable. The search function does not provide access to contributions to continuing committees, county political committees, etc. The public must be able to trace contributions.

-Lobbyists' reports should include the reporting of any bundling of campaign contributions.

-The MEC website needs to provide the public with more complete reports of actions taken on ethics violations, including the nature of the violations. The public has little confidence in the Missouri Ethics Commission since it conducts most of his business behind closed doors and reveals little of what it does.

-While the House leadership committees file reports with the Ethics Commission, Senate leadership committees, such as the one for Charlie Shields, are not filed with the Ethics Commission, but are only available at Jeff City. This practice needs to be stopped.

When I first examined the proposed legislation, I was shocked to see the outright ban on lobbyists' gifts, but this was in Rep. Tilley's plan long before he ever talked to me. And while some items involving elections and transparency in campaign contributions are not covered by Tilley's governmental reform plan, the fact that we have an ethics bill being proposed by someone who does have the power to get something done about it, should be a welcome sign to Missourians.

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