Missouri lawmakers received more than $730,000 in gifts from lobbyists during the 2013 legislative session, according to the St. Louis Public Radio “By the numbers: lobbying in Missouri” interactive project.
Lobbyists can spend on behalf of individual legislators, their spouses, children and staff, as well as on behalf of groups of legislators. During this year’s legislative session, group gifts to the entire General Assembly reached $255,724.71, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission, a government body that enforces campaign finance, lobbying and personal financial disclosure laws.
The largest individual recipient of the Missouri legislature, Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, took $6,895.72 in gifts from lobbyists, according to the MEC website. The Missouri Automobile Dealers Association alone granted Sen. Silvey $2,133.88 in 81 separate gifts, most of which were categorized as meals, food or beverages.
According to a report submitted to the MEC by MADA lobbyist Phillip Schnieders, the association supported a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Silvey to eliminate state and local use taxes on the storage, use or consumption of motor vehicles. The bill was eventually vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.
With $4,611.57 in gifts, Chairman of House Utilities Committee Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Charles, is the biggest recipient in the House of Representatives. A total of $1426.98 comes from AMEREN UE, a St. Louis-based electricity and natural gas corporation.
In a report submitted to the MEC, AMEREN UE lobbyist Matthew Forck declared the corporation supported a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Funderburk to allow utilities corporations to raise electricity rates to recover infrastructure replacement costs. The bill was passed by the House Rules committee, but no further action was undertaken.
Lobbyists are required to register with the MEC and submit monthly reports disclosing gifts and other expenditures as well as any direct business relationships, associations or partnerships with legislators. Data for the “By the numbers: lobbying in Missouri” project is provided by the MEC.
St. Louis Public Radio reporter Chris McDaniel said he started the project because Missouri has no limits on lobbying, and lobbyists’ expenditure disclosures are not accessible.
“The MEC has a dropdown menu to another dropdown menu to another dropdown menu, and offers no easy way to compare legislators, committees and lobbyists,” McDaniel said in an email. “Without that ability, there’s no accountability. What’s more, lobbying has a mystical quality to it for most of the public. With this project, our goal has been to demystify the practice.”
According to Corbin Evans, executive director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, MU's official student lobbying organization, Missouri has more lax lobbying laws than other states. ASUM attempts not to engage in the controversy, but sometimes issues with expenditures by other lobbyists arise, Evans said.
“Information could be presented a little bit better to the public,” Evans said. “I know the average individual doesn’t realize they are able to track that money, and see what legislators are receiving that money. Just a little more public relations campaign on behalf of the Missouri Ethics Commission I think could go a long way.”
Despite of the negative public perception of lobbyists, Evans thinks the work done by interest groups is crucial for the education of the legislature. Without lobbyists, it would be extremely difficult to get legislators oriented to what students need, he said. ASUM does not spend any money on behalf of public officials.
"I know that thousands of bills are filed every single year, and without lobbyists representing individual interests, a lot of legislators wouldn’t realize the impact of those issues on the individuals represented by interest groups," Evans said. "A lot of legislators are receiving funds from individuals or special interest organizations and us being an organization that's spending no money, it kind of does put us in a different category, but we think that the information we give to legislators and the education we try to provide them is just as valuable as some of the monetary reimbursements.”