KC lawmaker pays ethics debts; takes office

A Democratic Missouri lawmaker finally took office on Wednesday — a month later than his colleagues — after first paying off $19,090 in fees owed to the state Ethics Commission.

The ethics debts had prevented Leonard “Jonas” Hughes IV from taking office because of a law that took effect in August that prohibits election winners from being sworn in if they have not filed required reports and paid fees assessed by the Ethics Commission. Previously, officials had to file all campaign finance disclosure reports to take office.

Hughes, a Democrat from Kansas City, said he was able to pay the ethics fees after family members agreed to help out and that he was pleased to have the issue behind him. Hughes was first elected to the state House in 2004 and won re-election without opposition in November. Term-limits will bar him from seeking another term in the state House in 2012.

“It was never a question of not paying the fine. It was always if it could be payments or how it could be paid,” said Hughes, who had not returned to the Capitol until Tuesday.

Hughes, 31, called the campaign finance and ethics law that tripped him up “a bit punitive” for constituents when their choice to represent them is prevented from serving in the Legislature.

After the swearing-in Wednesday morning in the House speaker’s office, several lawmakers stopped Hughes to congratulate him in the hallway near the House Chamber. Later, one of his first legislative acts this session was to join a House-Senate joint legislative session to receive an update on the courts and judiciary from the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

The Ethics Commission said Hughes paid $18,830.23 on Tuesday and $259.77 on Wednesday.

Hughes owed $6,090 for filing late campaign finance and financial disclosure statements in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. The Ethics Commission also levied a $13,000 fee in 2008, after concluding that Hughes did not report all campaign donations and expenses and used some political funds for personal uses.

The attorney general’s office last month filed court documents on behalf of the Ethics Commission that sought a court judgment to help collect the fees. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said the state’s legal action against Hughes would be dropped after there is confirmation that the money has been deposited into the state’s account, which could take until next week.

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