Mo. House leader proposes more ethics changes

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2009 5:14 PM

A parents' warning to their lawmaker son that some activities could appear unethical prompted another proposal Tuesday to tighten the rules for how Missouri legislators, lobbyists and other public officials behave.

House Majority Leader Steven Tilley said he would file legislation to bar lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts or meals and governors from accepting campaign donations from those with business before an executive branch agency. His proposal also would require lawmakers to wait 180 days after leaving office before working as lobbyists or accepting a job appointment from the governor.

Tilley said his turning point came after he showed his parents some of the things said about him on Internet blogs. Tilley said they told him: "If people didn't know you, this would not look good."

The issue of political ethics rules is gaining momentum ahead of the annual session that starts Jan. 6, after six current or former state lawmakers were charged this year with crimes.

In the last several months, three St. Louis Democrats have pleaded guilty to federal felonies and resigned their seats. The most recent person to face legal trouble is former Republican House Speaker Rod Jetton, whom Tilley had employed as a political consultant. Jetton is charged with second-degree assault for striking and choking a woman during a sexual encounter.

There also have been persistent discussions of federal investigations into legislative actions, and several lawmakers have said the FBI has asked them about arrangements in which committee assignments, perks or favors were received for campaign donations.

The legal problems of those connected to the Capitol have caused people to lose faith in state government and question the ethics of other House members, said Tilley, R-Perryville.

"As a general rule, overwhelmingly almost everyone is there for the right reasons," he said. "The mistakes of a few can certainly taint the perception of the body."

The legislation backed by Tilley also would ban lawmakers from working as political consultants, require public officials' family members and staff to disclose earnings from political activities, and bar people appointed to certain paid government positions from giving campaign donations to the governor.

Tilley said he sought restrictions that made sense and addressed the activities that seemed the most questionable.

House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said a "key omission" from Tilley's legislation is a limit on how much can be donated to officials' campaigns.

Gov. Jay Nixon declined to comment Tuesday about Tilley's proposals on contributions to gubernatorial campaigns. Nixon said he would outline his own comprehensive ethics plan in the coming weeks.

"I'm happy that members of the Legislature in both parties are interested in ethics reform. I share their interest in doing something this year," Nixon said.

Senators and other House members have proposed a slew of ethics packages. The top Senate Republican, for example, has filed a bill that would create a special investigator for the Missouri Ethics Commission and would ban lawmakers from taking political contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session.

Two House members said Monday they would file a bipartisan ethics package to restrict the ability to move campaign donations between political action committees to obscure the donor, require greater financial disclosure from some political operatives and make it a felony to obstruct ethics investigations.


Associated Press Writer David A. Lieb in Osage Beach, Mo., contributed to this report.