If some Jefferson City lawmakers had their way, Missouri would change its nickname to the “Show-Me the Money State.” Despite multiple opportunities to tighten ethics laws and rein in their greediest colleagues, they’ve failed to act. A statewide ballot initiative will allow Missouri voters to do the job that legislators won’t.
If voters say yes to a proposed constitutional amendment destined for the November ballot, sweeping ethical reforms will become the law of the land. In a state that has among the loosest rules for ethical conduct, changes can’t come soon enough.
A bipartisan group called Clean Missouri has submitted more than 340,000 petition signatures calling for a slate of reforms. The collected signatures, far exceeding what’s required by law, still must be validated by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft before the measure is officially placed on the ballot. The amendment would:
• Place a $5 limit on the value of lobbyist gifts to lawmakers;
• Impose a two-year waiting period before former lawmakers and legislative employees can lobby current lawmakers;
• Establish a nonpartisan state demographer to help draw neutral legislative districts;
• Require that legislative records be open to the public.
These changes would help restore confidence in Missouri government and wash away the stink from abusive practices that have made state lawmakers the butt of ethics jokes. Voters elected Gov. Eric Greitens at least partly because of his promises to clean up state government. Instead, his all-out quest for “dark money” donations has turned him into the poster child of the show-me-the-money movement.
Candidates should earn votes the traditional way — by knocking on doors and meeting face-to-face with constituents, not by kowtowing to the special interest groups that help finance their campaigns. Lobbyists shouldn’t be able to buy influence with trips, drinks, dinners and gifts.
It’s time to end the cozy system in which elective office becomes a steppingstone to a lobbying career. Former House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, didn’t even wait. He became a paid political consultant while still in office. Legislators should be serving their constituents while in office, not maneuvering for prospective clients to maximize their future career options.
And then there is the loathsome redistricting process that snarls both political parties as they try to draw maps that protect incumbents and keep the party label on legislative districts. Clean Missouri’s plan is for both parties to be involved in choosing an independent expert to draw competitive, balanced maps. That’s the best way to ensure fair representation.
Since lawmakers seem unable or unwilling to impose stricter ethical standards, it’s time for Missourians to do it for them.