Crowell invokes rule to not vote on reporting rules

Saturday, March 18, 2006

When the Missouri Senate was working on a bill this week revising campaign and lobbyist reporting rules, Sen. Jason Crowell was excused from voting on the measure.

Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, invoked a Senate rule that allows a member to refrain from voting for "special reasons." His reason for seeking permission to refrain, Crowell said in an interview, was because his financial relationship with House Speaker Rod Jetton had become a part of the debate.

As a result, Crowell did not join in the 29-3 bipartisan vote to lift caps on campaign donations, impose stricter limits on the use of political party committees and require more information on reports filed by lobbyists.

During debate on the bill, Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis, proposed an amendment to bar lawmakers from hiring colleagues as campaign consultants. Crowell pays Jetton $1,000 a month for consulting work and paid him $3,000 per month during the 2004 election year.

Instead, senators added a provision requiring that personal financial disclosure reports filed by lawmakers must name any committees providing payments for campaign work.

"Rita Day put forth her bill that was targeting myself and the campaign consultant I have hired to help me in my election," Crowell said. "It was narrowly drafted to address that issue, and she cited me on the Senate floor as a specific example to stop. I felt it was my obligation to abstain."

Crowell and Jetton have defended the arrangement. Jetton worked diligently to help him win the Senate seat in 2004, Crowell said.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Ethics Commission agreed to use outside counsel to review the legality of the arrangement.

The commission acted after Jetton asked for an advisory opinion on the legality of his work for Crowell. The request was unusual, said executive director of the commission Robert Connor, because most such requests seek answers on actions that are being contemplated, not activities that have already occurred.

Attorney Jack Pletz of Jefferson City will review whether any laws governing ethics reporting or the conduct of public officials were violated by the consulting contract, Connor said.

"He will do what he determines to be necessary in a review of the statutes to give the commission a recommendation on what he sees," Connor said.

There is no time limit on Pletz's review, Connor said.

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