Kinder says Mo. officials shouldn't be consultants

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- House Speaker Rod Jetton, once one of the most powerful lawmakers because of his position, has become a political target for fellow Republicans campaigning for office.

While serving as the top official in the House, Jetton also has been paid as a consultant and fundraiser by the campaigns of several Republican lawmakers, whose legislation he can either advance or stymie through his powerful position.

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder traveled the state Tuesday backing a proposed ban on state elected officials serving as political strategists or fundraisers for other elected officials or candidates.

Last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman also proposed to ban elected officials from serving as political consultants as part of her ethics platform.

"I dare my fellow Republicans to join us in doing this," Kinder said in an interview Tuesday. "On a matter of conscious such as this, Republicans need to be out front in demanding reform. If this is not explicitly illegal, it should be made so."

Jetton's firm, Commonsense Consulting LLC, was paid a total of about $140,000 from January 2007 through this March by Republican Sens. Jason Crowell, of Cape Girardeau; Rob Mayer, of Dexter; and Luann Ridgeway, of Smithville. That's according to campaign finance reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Jetton also works as a consultant for Republican Rep. Bob Onder, of Lake St. Louis, who is running for the 9th Congressional District. But the most recent Federal Election Commission report, covering through the end of March, did not yet list any payments to Jetton's firm.

Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers have questioned whether Jetton's connection to the lawmakers has influenced legislation.

Ridgeway's alternative teacher certification bill was the first piece of Senate legislation to pass the House this year. Onder, although a freshman, got to serve as the lead sponsor for high-profile bills on illegal immigration and abortion. In the final days of the session, Ridgeway and Crowell both delayed a Senate vote on a bill repealing a contentious village incorporation law that Jetton had backed.

The Missouri Ethics Commission, responding to an opinion request by Jetton, said in May 2006 that there is no campaign finance or conflict-of-interest law specifically prohibiting a lawmaker from working as a consultant for another elected official or candidate.

But the commission expressed "serious concerns" about the ability of a lawmaker-consultant to avoid legal violations and "about the appearance of impropriety that would be associated with such an arrangement."

Jetton plans to make a public statement, likely next week, about the proposals targeting his type of business practice, said spokesman Barry Bennett. But the bottom line is Jetton has done nothing wrong, he said.

"He is going on what the Missouri Ethics Commission has allowed him to do in the past. I believe he's sticking with that," Bennett said.

Kinder said he tried to work quietly behind the scenes to persuade Jetton and his lawmaker-clients to halt their political consulting arrangements, which have existed for at least a couple of years. Kinder said he had considered going public with his criticism in late May at the state Republican convention, but decided to wait for fear he would be overshadowed by other convention-related events.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Rep. Sam Page, of Creve Coeur, took no position Tuesday on whether to ban elected officials from working as political consultants. Rather, Page questioned whether it was ethical for Kinder to support Medicaid cuts and a land-assemblage tax credit backed by a particular St. Louis-area developer.

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