Tilley critical of Spence gifts to lawmakers

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley has accused fellow Republican Dave Spence of hypocrisy for proposing a cash limit on lobbyist gifts then doling out sports tickets to lawmakers to win support for his gubernatorial bid.

Spence is seeking the GOP nomination to run against incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in November. Though a political novice, Spence is a successful businessman who sold his plastic container business for more than $200 million.

As part of his campaign, Spence outlined an ethics proposal earlier this month that would impose a $25 cap on the value of lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, which would end a longstanding practice of free meals, concert tickets and ballgame seats as gifts.

Tilley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/LWqI4v ) that Spence is being hypocritical since he regularly entertains legislators at St. Louis Rams footballs in his suite at the Edward Jones Dome and also offers them tickets to Blues hockey games.

Spence’s campaign said in a statement that the tickets are minor compared with the big money that flows from donors to political campaigns.

The practice of providing officials tickets to sports events violates no laws for either a candidate or a lobbyist, but Tilley accused Spence of trying to buy support.

“Yes, he’s been giving tickets out to members,” Tilley said. “I know because he offered them to me.”

Spence’s campaign manager, Jared Craighead, said in the statement that the candidate’s campaign reform plan seeks “to clean up, open up and straighten up state government. It’s hard to understand how anyone could equate a candidate for governor doing social events with members of his party during election season to pay-to-play and influencing official acts of elected officials.”

While announcing his proposed limit on lobbyist gifts, Spence also proposed earlier this month to ban candidates from making speculative investments with campaign funds — a proposal that some believe had Tilley in mind. Tilley amassed a huge campaign fund only to abandon his bid for statewide office last year. He raised eyebrows by using $210,000 of the unused campaign money to open a Scottrade brokerage account and another $900,000 to purchase shares of a southeast Missouri bank.

Tilley said his criticism of Spence is unrelated. He said if Spence is going to support a ban on tickets from lobbyists, “then you can’t give out tickets to people hoping they are going to support your campaign.

“I think it’s hypocritical,” Tilley said.

Some legislators have accepted Spence’s invitations. Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon, said he agreed to join Spence at the Edward Jones Dome last season because he had never been to a Rams game and had never met Spence.

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, one of about 50 state House members who endorsed Spence in March, said he also attended a Rams game with Spence this past season.

“It’s an opportunity to sit down and visit with Dave, get to know what’s he’s about, what his issues are,” said Dieckhaus, R-Washington. “Like going to a game with anybody else you don’t know.”

Spence isn’t the first politician to seek political support through access to special events. Gov. Jay Nixon has a box at Mizzou Arena, paid for by the state Democratic Party.

Sports tickets are exempt from state law that requires candidates and public officials to annually disclose gifts they have received.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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