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Missouri Democrats propose ethics, finance measure

Missouri House Democrats on Tuesday called for new campaign finance rules and stiffer ethics laws that cap political contributions, limit gifts from lobbyists, require departing legislators to sit out before becoming lobbyists and impose new reporting requirements for some not-for-profit groups.

Democrats said they believe the proposal is a priority for Missourians and that, if necessary, they could attempt to take the issue directly to voters through an initiative petition. Lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January for their 2013 session.

"We've had a lot of talk, we've had a lot of excuses and we've had had some serious obstructionism from our majority party. But in terms of results, we've had little to none," said Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, who is sponsoring the legislation.

The wide-ranging legislation would cap campaign contributions for legislators and statewide elected officials at $5,000 per donor for each election and would limit gifts lawmakers and immediate family members can accept from lobbyists to $1,000 annually. Legislators also would be barred from working as paid political consultants while in office and would need to wait at least two years after leaving the Legislature before returning to lobby former colleagues.

In addition, the Missouri Ethics Commission would gain the authority to launch its own investigations instead of waiting for a compliant to be filed, and the ability to move campaign contributions among political action committees would be restricted.

Many of the proposals in the Democrats' proposal were part of a 2010 bill approved by a House committee. Instead of that measure, the House gave final approval to a different version that critics complained did not go far enough. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court struck down that 2010 ethics law because of the process used by the Legislature.

The House Democrats' most recent proposal also adds some new issues. For example, it would require not-for-profit organizations contributing money for political purposes to disclose their donors. During this year's elections, there were instances in which a political action committee that is required to report on its finances received contributions from a not-for-profit group that is not required to report its donors. That made it difficult to determine the original source of the money.

Shortly before the Aug. 7 primary, a political committee criticized some state Senate candidates' position on energy issues. The political committee reported receiving a $275,000 contribution from a not-for-profit group that was organized shortly before the contribution was made.

The Republicans hold supermajorities state Legislature, giving them firm control over both houses. Likely incoming leaders in both chambers said economic development and jobs — not campaign finance and ethics — are their priorities for the session.

However, Sen. Tom Dempsey, who is likely to be president pro tem, said there seems to be "near unanimity" that more transparency is needed over the not-for-profit groups. Incoming House Majority Leader John Diehl Jr. said lawmakers probably should address organizations set up to shield the source of financial contributions but that he has no interest in reinstating campaign finance limits eliminated by a measure passed in the closing hours of the 2008 session.

"The important part of any ethics or campaign finance (bill) is that you have transparency and full disclosure," said Diehl, R-Town and Country.


Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.

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