The ethics debate in Jefferson City is becoming a comedy routine

If you read only one story in today’s edition of the Kansas City Star, make it this one by Jefferson City correspondent Jason Hancock. In it, he describes what we all knew was coming in this year’s debate over ethics among Missouri lawmakers.

Predictably, meaningful ethics rules are stalling as elected leaders quibble over the significance of receiving gifts from lobbyists and unlimited campaign donations. 

The story features a quote from St. Joseph Sen. Rob Schaaf, who has an incredible ability to sound like a lunatic one moment and then perfectly reasonable the next. Hancock’s story captures Schaaf in one of his sensible moments.

““If we are not influenced by these gifts, then why do lobbyists give them?” Schaaf asked during a Senate debate on various ethics proposals.

The same question, of course, extends to campaign donations. Next time your flight is delayed, take a look at campaign finance reports for your local politician. Donations come not so much from individuals (unless they’re really rich) but from corporations and political action committees. It’s because they want to curry favor with people who can write legislation and later vote on them.

Then there are legislators like Franklin County Sen. Dave Schatz, quoted in Hancock’s story as saying that this ethics mumbo jumbo is just a way for his colleagues to get face time in front of the television cameras.

Hancock’s story captures this exchange from the Senate floor that gives you a taste for how the ethics debate is faring in Jefferson City:

Those pushing ethics reform proposals are just doing so to “curry favor with the media,” said Sen. Dave Schatz, a Franklin County Republican.

Schatz called the push for a waiting period before lawmakers can become lobbyists a “solution in search of a problem,” dismissing critics who say current law fuels a perception that lawmakers are casting votes in the hope that it will win them a job when they leave office.

He worried that if a lobbyist gift ban were put in place he could accidentally violate it if he noticed a box of leftover pizza in someone’s office and took a slice.

“Would I know if there was a box of pizza, and I came by your office, that a lobbyist paid for that pizza?” Schatz said. “I walked by and I picked up a piece and ate it, and all of a sudden now I’m guilty of violating the thing that we’ve banned everybody from partaking in.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, questioned whether Schatz’s concerns about the bill were actually much more basic.

“I think you just want to keep getting gifts,” she told Schatz during debate.

Interesting take by Nasheed. Turns out she took more in gifts from lobbyists in January than any other lawmaker in Jefferson City. By a long shot.

Here’s the list, courtesy of Progress Missouri (the first number represents how much money the lawmaker took, and the second is how much their family members accepted).

  1. Nasheed, Jamilah, $1,749.04, $586.39
  2. Wieland, Paul, $595.24, $177.63
  3. Leara, Mike, $586.45, $0.00
  4. Hinson, Dave, $565.14, $6.65
  5. Flanigan, Tom, $456.40, $0.00
  6. Colona, Mike, $427.59, $0.00
  7. Pace, Sharon L, $424.43, $0.00
  8. Pierson, Tommie, $422.72, $0.00
  9. Munzlinger, Brian, $377.43, $66.00
  10. Chappelle-Nadal, Maria N., $359.31, $222.07

(By the way, look for my column on the devolution of the Missouri “ethics overhaul” in tomorrow’s edition of The Pitch.)

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