The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 19, 2014

Susan Redden: Former lawmaker not optimistic about chances for ethics reform

JOPLIN, Mo. — The chance that the Missouri General Assembly will pass ethics and campaign finance reforms this session lands somewhere between slim and none, if you ask Kevin Wilson of Neosho.

Wilson has some experience in that regard. During his time in the Legislature, he was chairman of a special Government Accountability and Ethics Reform Committee appointed by then-House Speaker Ron Richard when he named ethics reform as a priority of the 2010 session.

The panel proposed a package of reforms, but Wilson said that when the final version came to a vote, he could describe it only as “ethics light.”

“We worked all session and came up with a bipartisan proposal,” he said. “But when it came back from the Senate, it had been hijacked. I walked away; I didn’t even handle it on the floor.”

Work by that committee was cited last week by Secretary of State Jason Kander in his proposal to change the state’s ethics and campaign laws.

Kander noted that he was in the House at the time and worked with Republican Rep. Tim Flook to pass the measure, which later was invalidated by the Missouri Supreme Court on technical grounds.

The two were involved, Wilson said, but the final measure missed the mark in achieving “the true, comprehensive ethics reform we were tasked with.”

The timing of Kander’s reform proposal — during an election year — makes prospects for passage even less likely, said Wilson, who was first elected to the House in 2000.

The legislation endorsed by Kander is sponsored by Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City. It would reinstate campaign contribution limits, ban lobbyists’ gifts to elected officials and their staffs, and close what Kander called “the legislator-to-lobbyist revolving door.” It also would make it a crime to obstruct an investigation by the Missouri Ethics Commission, empower the commission to penalize candidates for circumventing contribution limits, and create whistle-blower protections for individuals reporting wrongdoing to the commission.

Kander called the proposal “a solution to a serious problem.”

Current Missouri law allows politicians to accept unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited lobbyist gifts. Kander said the proposal would prohibit politicians from accepting free tickets to sporting events, and would put an end to funneling political contributions through political action committees.

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