Standing before a stack of boxes in the Capitol Rotunda, representing lobbyists' gifts to lawmakers, supporters of the proposed Clean Missouri amendment to the state Constitution urged people to support it when they vote next month.
"Currently, there are no limits of any kind on the free stuff that paid lobbyists can give to our state legislators," Christine Doerr, a U.S. Navy veteran from Columbia, said during the brief ceremony late Friday morning. "Since 2004, lobbyists with business before the state have given legislators nearly $900,000 a year in liquor, steak dinners and overseas trips.
"And it gets worse — they hide the recipients of nearly 70 percent of the gifts through a loophole that allows them to report gifts as going to groups, instead of naming the individual legislators who took the gifts."
The proposed amendment is on the Nov. 6 ballot as Amendment 1.
If voters approve it, the Clean Missouri proposal includes a provision prohibiting lobbyists from giving any gift to lawmakers or their employees worth more than $5.
Other provisions include lowering the current campaign contribution limits for state legislative candidates, requiring lawmakers' records and committee meetings to be open to the public, and prohibiting lawmakers and their staff members from becoming lobbyists until at least two years after they have left the Legislature.
Both the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Missouri Republican Party have announced opposition to the proposal.
Dan Mehan, the chamber's president and CEO, told the News Tribune on Friday the proposal is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and a bad idea that Missourians shouldn't embrace.
Mehan pointed to a comment he made last month, after the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of his case trying to keep the amendment off the ballot, when he said: "Amendment 1 isn't designed to clean Missouri — it will fleece us."
Under current law, lobbyists have to report their gifts to lawmakers.
But, Benjamin Singer, of St. Louis, Clean Missouri's spokesman, told reporters at the Capitol the gifts leave "at least an appearance of corruption" for many Missourians.
"We believe that legislators and their staff should be working for taxpayers and Missourians and voters — not for lobbyists," he explained. "It's critical to ensure that we have that (proper) accountability."
One of the chamber's and Missouri GOP's biggest complaints is the proposed amendment's plan to draw new legislative districts in a different way.
"Under the guise of ethics reform, Clean Missouri, or Amendment 1, is an attempt to radically redistrict Missouri using a ridiculous fairness rule that would solely benefit Democrats," Chris Nuelle, the Missouri GOP's spokesman said.
Currently, when legislative districts need to be redrawn every 10 years, to reflect changes in Missouri's population, the governor names two commissions comprised of residents recommended by the congressional district committees of the two largest political parties — and those commissions redraw the district boundaries based on population data and statutory requirements.
Singer said: "Right now, the maps are drawn by insiders behind closed doors, to protect powerful politicians of both parties.
"The opposition is trying to keep a corrupt situation in place."
The amendment adds a state demographer, chosen by the state auditor with approval from the Senate's majority and minority party leaders, who will draw the new district lines based on clear criteria including compactness, natural and political boundaries, keeping communities' interests, fairness and political competitiveness.
"Not every district has to be competitive," Singer said. "Amendment 1 does not require every district to be 50/50. It requires more fairness and more competitiveness for the map as a whole."
Both Nuelle and Mehan argue Clean Missouri really isn't a grassroots plan.
"Clean Missouri's name is ironic, considering it's propped up by George Soros, liberal groups like Planned Parenthood and millions in dark money," Nuelle said Friday.
Mehan added: "Missourians must now decide whether we should allow out-of-state activists to rewrite our constitution, meddle with the balance of power in our Legislature and open the door to higher taxes and more regulation.
But Doerr and Singer said the proposed amendment is "a bipartisan issue" backed by leaders in both major parties who want change in the current process, as well as by many "average" Missourians.
"We encourage (people) to take a look at the policy and at the people who are supporting it," Singer said. "We've got folks who are politically endorsing it or are financial supporting it from all across the political spectrum.
"(We have received) over 27,000 donations averaging less than $100, from both sides of the aisle. This is about putting Missourians before political parties (and) lobbyists."
Singer added: "We have an opposition that is looking to protect a corrupt system — and they're willing to lie and mislead voters however they can."
Nuelle countered: "Missourians shouldn't be fooled by Clean Missouri's misleading name and marketing."