JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House on Thursday took a step toward a top campaign promise by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens to ban lobbyist gifts to elected officials.
House members voted 147-6 in favor of a proposed limit on lobbyist gifts that would ban presents to individual elected officials but allow for lobbyist-catered meals at some events. The bill needs another House vote before it can move to the Senate, where it died last year.
Missouri law currently allows lobbyists to give unlimited gifts to elected officials, which last year included free tickets to Beyonce concerts. Republican Rep. Justin Alferman of Hermann said the intent of his bill is to “alleviate the underlying influence of lobbyists over legislators in the General Assembly.”
Greitens pledged to ban lobbyist gifts while on the campaign trail, and on his first day in office Monday he banned executive branch employees from accepting such presents.
Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson also placed emphasis on a gift ban after he assumed power when his predecessor, John Diehl, resigned on the last day of session in 2015 and admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with a Capitol intern. The scandal, and several others that drew national attention to the Capitol, provided a platform for long-sought changes to state ethics laws.
While most representatives voted in favor of Alferman’s bill, some Democrats criticized an exception that would allow lobbyists to cater free meals at events if all lawmakers and statewide elected officials are invited in writing at least 72 hours in advance.
“There are a lot of states that don’t allow lobbyists to buy meals, even if everybody’s invited,” said Rep. Jon Carpenter, a Gladstone Democrat. “It’s not as if this is a necessary function of state government.”
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said the bill is a “good first step” but added that it “could’ve been stronger.”
The bill also includes exceptions for flowers and honorary plaques.
House members tossed out a change pitched by Kirkwood Democratic Rep. Deb Lavender to ban officials from using campaign funds to reimburse lobbyists for gifts. Alferman said current law already prohibits personal use of campaign funds.
Republican lawmakers also rejected Democratic proposals earlier Thursday to add a lobbyist gift ban and a five-year waiting period before representatives can become executive- or legislative-branch lobbyists to internal House rules. Democratic supporters argued that would ensure those policies take effect in the House if bills to do so for all elected officials don’t become law.
“If we’re not able to get that bill across the finish line, then we’ll revisit some other options at that time,” Richardson told reporters after the House vote. “The best policy for the state is to have a permanent policy in place that has the full effect of law.”