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Former Missouri lawmaker's testimony raises lobbying questions

Former Missouri lawmaker's testimony raises lobbying questions

January 31st, 2019 by Associated Press in Missouri News

The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City is shown here on Feb. 21, 2018. Phase 2 of construction on the Capitol was set to begin in March 2018.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Testimony from a former legislator this week before a Missouri Senate committee is raising questions about whether he followed state laws prohibiting ex-lawmakers from quickly returning to lobby at the Statehouse.

Former state Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Kansas City Republican, lost his re-election bid in November and then resigned in December to avoid a new law banning legislators from returning as lobbyists for two years after leaving office. However, he still is required to wait six months after the end of his term to lobby.

On Tuesday, Corlew testified before the Senate's Government Reform panel in favor of a law promoted by the American Tort Reform Association. He said he testified as an attorney, not as a lobbyist for the association.

Some experts on lobbying questioned his interpretation of the rules.

"I would call him a stealth lobbyist," said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, which advocates for greater ethics and transparency in government. "He's working for a lobbying association and promoting legislation."

Corlew said he was aware of the lobbying rules and would not do anything to violate them. He said he spoke to some friends on other issues Tuesday but "not on any legislative issue."

The two-year restriction was part of an ethics reform Clean Missouri amendment approved by voters in November. It includes an exception for a person "testifying as a witness before the General Assembly or any committee" and Corlew said that exception meant he was following the law.

Beth Leech, who studies lobbying as a political scientist at Rutgers University, said Corlew's actions may be technically legal but it is essentially lobbying.

"This is a loophole that exists at the federal level, too," Leech said. "People who are acting as political representatives get to not call themselves lobbyists under the law, even though what they're doing is part of political advocacy. And to me, a political advocate who is outside of government is a lobbyist."

Corlew said the tort reform association is a client of his law firm, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and he testifying was part of his job at the firm.

"As with any client, the firm likely will bill (the American Tort Reform Association) for my time as an attorney, but they will not be paying me personally or directly," Corlew said.

Lobbyists are required to register with the Missouri Ethics Commission and disclose their spending activity. Shook, Hardy & Bacon is listed as having no lobbyists in the Capitol this session, according to the commission. Corlew has not registered. The American Tort Reform Association has nine lobbyists registered this session; Corlew is not one of them.

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Republican from Columbia, said if someone wants to question Corlew's testimony, "then that's a conversation for the ethics commission."