Nixon calls for new ethics law

Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday called for Missouri lawmakers to pass new ethics legislation after the state’s most recent law was thrown out this week by the Supreme Court because of how it was approved.

Nixon said Tuesday’s court decision has left a significant gap in the state’s ethics policies and the Legislature should move quickly to restore the provisions from the invalidated law. In addition, Nixon said he would like new limits placed on how much money can be donated to political candidates and a ban on legislators doubling as paid political consultants for colleagues.

“We started this week at one level of transparency and protection. We’re ending this week at a much worse level, and the

Legislature needs to come back next week and put on the front burner getting back to at least where we were,” Nixon said. “Taking huge and dramatic steps backwards in ethics laws is going to have a very negative effect on the public’s view of what we do when we do the people’s business.”

The Missouri Supreme Court concluded that the ethics law, which was passed in 2010, violated a section of the state constitution that prohibits lawmakers from amending a bill to change its original purpose. The campaign finance and ethics provisions were added to legislation that allows elected officials to use the state Office of Administration to determine the best bids for their contracts.

The struck-down ethics legislation required candidates for the Legislature and statewide offices to publicly report contributions of more than $500 within 48 hours of receiving them while the Legislature is in session. However, campaigns still must report donations of more than $5,000 within 48 hours.

The law also banned certain types of committee-to-committee money transfers intended to help the public track the source of campaign contributions. And it allowed the Missouri Ethics Commission to launch investigations with a unanimous vote instead of acting only after receiving a complaint about potential ethics or campaign finance violations.

Some lawmakers said they were prepared to consider new ethics measures. Kansas City Democratic Rep. Jason Kander, who’s running for secretary of state, has filed ethics legislation that also includes new provisions to ban lawmakers from accepting lobbyists’ gifts and to require retiring legislators to wait two years before becoming lobbyists.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said Friday that his chamber would consider any ethics changes approved by the Republican-led House and that leaders would be happy to discuss with Nixon the details of his proposal.

Campaign finance limits have been a contentious issue in Missouri. Voters implemented donation limits in the 1990s, which lawmakers voted to repeal in 2006. That law then was tossed out by the state high court because of procedural problems, and the Legislature in 2008 voted again to repeal them. Some lawmakers who do not support campaign finance limits contend the caps decrease transparency by giving donors an incentive to obscure contributions.

Last month, Nixon called for campaign finance limits during his State of the State speech. The governor’s campaign this year has reported receiving more than $200,000 worth of monetary and in-kind contributions that arrived in chunks of more than $5,000.

Nixon said Friday he does not have a specific dollar amount in mind for the new limits, but that he could support a cap of several thousand dollars.

“It’s about having a system that has some friction in it so that candidates have a broader base of support and public cynicism is hopefully lessened,” Nixon said.

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