JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — During his first legislative session in office, many top pro-business priorities of Missouri’s new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens passed with strong support from the GOP-led Legislature.
But bills to strengthen state ethics laws — an underlying campaign pledge of Greitens’ — languished and ultimately failed to make it to his desk before the Friday deadline.
While Greitens told reporters after the session ended that he “set the example on ethics” by enacting lobbyist-gift and revolving-door bans in the executive branch, lawmakers say a nonprofit with secret donors that promotes his agenda helped to undermine his policy proposals in the Legislature.
“You don’t get to run on cleaning up ethics in Jefferson City and then be completely devoid of them,” St. Louis Democratic Sen. Jake Hummel said. “People are going to see through that, and I think people in this building saw through that.”
Greitens’ main legislative successes during his first months in office were on longtime Republican priorities shared by GOP legislative leaders on labor laws and lawsuit limits that floundered under former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
Legislators before adjourning passed bills to make it more difficult for workers to sue employers for discrimination, raise the standard for vetting expert witnesses and limit how much money people could receive for medical costs in injury lawsuits. On labor issues, lawmakers last month sent Greitens a measure to ban required union working conditions for local public construction projects.
Most notably, Greitens within a month of taking office signed a right-to-work law banning mandatory union fees — a big win for Republicans.
“Conservatives have been trying to enact right to work for 40 years,” Greitens said. “We got it done in six weeks.”
But his promise to ramp-up ethics laws is “going to come back to haunt him,” St. Louis Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said.
At issue is the nonprofit A New Missouri, which is manned by some of Greitens’ former campaign staffers and does not have to disclose the identity of its donors.
Hermann Republican Rep. Justin Alferman, who sponsored a ban on lobbyist gifts, said dark money from anonymous donors had been a concern among some Missouri lawmakers but drew increased scrutiny after A New Missouri launched attack ads against a Republican state senator. The ads listed Sen. Rob Schaaf’s personal cellphone number and urged people to call him.
“You just don’t do that,” said Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins, of Warrensburg.
Lawmakers, particularly senators, already had complained about Greitens’ aggressive tactics to pressure legislators to side with his agenda. Tension rose to a head after the attack ads, which Alferman said “only emboldened senators to kill” proposals to ban lobbyist gifts that have been unpopular and have failed to pass for years.
“Unfortunately any time anyone wants to bring up ethics, that comes up and it muddies the water,” Alferman said. “It’s sad.”
Alferman’s bill died, along with Greitens’ other campaign promises to enact term limits for all statewide elected officials and a requirement that officials wait a year to lobby for every year served in office.
Greitens on Friday renewed calls to pass those measures. He also stood by the nonprofit.
“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve got supporters and advocates all over the state of Missouri who are pushing for our agenda,” Greitens said.