Blunt's veto of ethics bills surprises supporters

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With a friendly legislature, Gov. Matt Blunt wasn't expected to have much need for his veto authority this year. But supporters of the only two bills he used it on were left surprised.

Blunt last week vetoed a pair of similar measures related to public reporting requirements for registered lobbyists and operations at the Missouri Ethics Commission, which enforces state lobbying and campaign finance laws.

In his veto messages, Blunt stated that his action was prompted by provisions in both bills that would have repealed the requirement that lobbyists must twice a year report what legislation they supported or opposed in the legislature.

Ethics commission compliance director Mike Reid said the commission considers those reports unnecessary because public requests to see them are rare.

"We do not have a lot of people looking at them," Reid said.

The requirement that lobbyists report on whose behalf they are working wouldn't have been affected.

Although the bills passed by overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers with ample votes to override the vetoes, the bills' sponsor said he doubts he will attempt to do so, although he hasn't ruled it out.

"I haven't talked to leadership, and I'm sure we'll be discussing it," said state Rep. Bob May, R-Rolla. "But I'd say there would be little chance a Republican-controlled legislature would override a Republican governor's veto."

Reid and May both said they had expected Blunt to sign the bills, which they didn't see as a source of controversy.

"It was cleanup legislation for us," Reid said.

A key provision of the main bill would have allowed parties subject to ethic committee sanctions to directly file appeals with the Cole County Circuit Court. At present, appeals must first go before the Administrative Hearing Commission. Bypassing the hearing commission, Reid said, would allow disputes to be resolved more quickly and at less cost.

The measure also would have cut down on the duplicative filing of campaign finance disclosure reports with both the ethics commission and local election authorities and clarified conflicting language in existing statutes, Reid said.

The bill also called for a study on the effectiveness of Missouri's campaign contribution limits. That provision was prompted by lawmakers who feel that the limits, instead of reducing the role of money in campaigns as intended, have led to an increase in independent expenditures by outside groups seeking to influence elections. The source of such spending is often difficult to track.

May said he will try to pass a version of the bill more to the governor's liking next year. Jessica Robinson, Blunt's spokeswoman, said she was unsure whether the governor would support such a measure but reiterated that his main problem with this year's legislation was the reduction of lobbyist disclosure requirements.

The bills are HB 524 and HB 525.

mpowers@semisourian.com

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