Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Transparency not that important to Speaker when it comes to ALEC

A video posted earlier today shows Missouri's Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, piously proclaiming that any bills that would reinstate campaign contribution limits are "non-starters" in this year's legislative session.

The most important thing with any ethics legislation, the speaker said, is "transparency." From Jones' way of thinking, it does not matter if someone contributes $100,000 to a politician as long as that contribution is recorded and openly available for the public to see.

Of course, that is assuming that the voting public has the time or the inclination to go to the Missouri Ethics Commission website and pore through the posted documents. It also assumes that there is a robust media willing to maintain their role of watchdog for the public and reveal these contributions from special interests and the gifts provided by lobbyists representing those special interests.

For the most part, those assumptions go unrealized and the wild west, give me the money and I'll take care of you attitude of the Missouri Legislature goes unabated.

But even Tim Jones and those who express the same attitudes about transparency do not seem to feel the same way about their association with the shadowy ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). As I have noted in previous posts, Jones and other politicians have done a good job of hiding the influence the organization (which provides ready-made pro-business, pro-gun, anti-public school bills that are then submitted by legislators as their own) has in this state.

Lobbyists' filings for gifts to Republicans attending ALEC's national conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, in July, for instance, were credited to the entire general assembly, though as far as available records indicate not one Democrat from the Show-Me State was in attendance. Not only did that make it appear that both parties were receiving the gifts, which was not the case, but it also attributed to those gifts to the entire General Assembly, all 197 members, and prevented taxpayers from knowing just what gifts were accepted by the relatively small number of legislators who were in Salt Lake City.

Among those who credited their expenses to the General Assembly:
-CenturyLink lobbyist Doug Galloway reported $1,000 in meals and drinks
-AT&T's John R. Sondag, $550 in meals for "dinner" and $800 for the Missouri Night reception
-Bryan Cave LLC's Guy William Black, $800 for meals
-Ford Motor Company's Tony Reinholdt, $600 for meals
-Catalyst Group's Daniel Pfeifer, $800 for meals
-Cerner's Carrie Sherer, $800 for meals
-Missouri Chamber of Commerce's Tracy King, $800 for meals.
A total of $6,100 in lobbyists' gifts was credited to the Missouri General Assembly. 
Showing a little more accuracy, but not much, lobbyist Trey Davis, representing Missouri Energy Development Association, credited $1,371.84 to the House Majority Caucus.
Judging from the lobbyists' reports, it appears that those attending the conference included Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem; Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis; Rep. Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill.
And undeniably, Speaker of the House Jones also attended the conference, especially considering that his "transparency" includes campaign disclosure reports that show three "contributions" from ALEC during 2012, totaling $2,673.49, and a $450 "sponsorship."

Transparency, it appears, is a double-edged sword when wielded by politicians like Tim Jones. It enables him to accept a $100,000 contribution from retired billionaire and public education opponent Rex Sinquefield, while proclaiming nothing is wrong with it as long as everyone knows he received it, while at the same time, transparency concerning connections with a group like ALEC is a much harder sell even in this state where we have become accustomed to politicians arriving in Jefferson City with their hands fully extended.

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