GOP proposes new laws to open inaugural books

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Nearly a year after Gov. Bob Holden spent $1 million on his inaugural party, Republican lawmakers are trying to come up with a way to keep tabs on future spending for such galas.

Even before the 2002 legislative session opened last week, two bills were filed to make future gubernatorial inaugural committees open their books to the public.

Both measures would make donors' names and the amounts they contributed a public record. Both proposals also would require the committees to detail any outstanding debts.

Six months to pay off

At $1.04 million, Holden's inaugural festivities on Jan. 8, 2001, were the most expensive in state history. Taxpayers provided $125,400 -- about the same amount appropriated for his two predecessors' inaugurations -- and it took Holden more than six months to pay the rest of the bills.

Holden did not initially disclose who donated the cash for the party and how much they gave to bail him out of debt afterward.

While all donations to political candidates and elected officials must be reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission, money given to an inaugural planning committee can remain a secret.

Although he didn't have to do so, Holden eventually released the information about his inaugural party.

"I think the public has the right to know who is contributing to their public officials," said Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla. "It could be considered as trying to influence or gain access by contributing."

Steelman has introduced a bill that would require any committee receiving money on behalf of an elected official file records with the Missouri Ethics Commission every six months.

Quarterly statements

Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, filed a similar bill that deals only with gubernatorial inaugurals.

Crowell wants to require governors-elect to form inaugural committees before they receive any public money for their inaugurations. The committees would have to file quarterly statements with the Ethics Commission listing donors and the dates, nature and amount of their contributions.

In addition, the size of donations to inaugural committees would be limited.

Crowell, who sponsored similar, unsuccessful legislation last year, said he hoped his bill would keep future governors-elect from throwing $1 million parties.

Holden said he isn't opposed to legislation making inaugural committee's books open to the public.

"I've been very open with ours," Holden said. "Anything that adds to more openness, I support."

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