Missouri House panel approves campaign ethics overhaul plan

Friday, March 26, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri House ethics panel unanimously approved a plan Thursday to cap campaign contributions and lobbyists gifts, and strengthen the state ethics commission.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Nixon have made it a priority to overhaul the state's political ethics rules after three St. Louis Democrats resigned last year following guilty pleas to federal felonies. A former Republican House speaker also has faced a federal investigation into the handling of legislation.

Rep. Kevin Wilson, the chairman of the specially created ethics committee, said he believes the 12-0 vote Thursday sends a strong signal to other House members that the changes are needed. The legislation needs another committee vote before it can move to the House floor for debate.

"We worked our butts off on this for two months and came up with an unanimous vote," said Wilson, R-Neosho.

Among the most controversial elements is a reinstatement of campaign donation limits at $5,000 per election for all state offices.

Missouri lawmakers repealed previous campaign finance limits in the closing hours of the 2008 session. The mid-election year change did away with donation limits of $1,350 for candidates to statewide offices, $625 for Senate candidates and $325 for House candidates.

Nixon and many Democratic lawmakers have said campaign finance limits need to be included in any serious ethics legislation.

But the caps weren't in an ethics bill approved by the Senate earlier this month, meaning the chamber would have to consider the caps if approved by the House.

Several Republicans on the House ethics committee unsuccessfully tried Thursday to strip the donation cap or increase it to $10,000.

"If we put a low limit of any kind, we throw out transparency," said Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston.

The House ethics bill also restricts funneling money through multiple political action committees to obscure its origins before the funds are given to political candidates. It also would require political donations of more than $2,000 to be reported electronically within 48 hours. Currently, the threshold is $5,000.

Besides campaign finance rules, the proposed ethics overhaul would allow the Missouri Ethics Commission to launch its own investigations of possible violations, bar lawmakers from working as paid political consultants for elected officials and requires them to wait at least a year after leaving office before becoming lobbyists.

Lawmakers also could not accept more than $1,000 in gifts from lobbyists each year.

Ethics is HB2300

On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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