Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

House Passes Bill on Lobby Money Lawmakers Would Control Expense Summaries' Release

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

House Passes Bill on Lobby Money Lawmakers Would Control Expense Summaries' Release

Article excerpt

Legislators would get advance summaries of lobbying expenses - and could block public access to reports they questioned - under a bill passed Thursday by the House.

Under the bill, the Ethics Commission would give legislators monthly reports showing how much money each lobbyist spent on a legislator for meals and gifts. The summaries would be kept from public view for 30 days while the lawmakers reviewed them.

If a legislator questioned a reported expense, the Ethics Commission would launch a confidential investigation. The lobbyist's entire report would be closed during the investigation. There is no deadline for completing such an inquiry. The commission could order incomplete or incorrect reports be corrected. House Majority Leader Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield, handled the bill. She said in an interview that the provisions would protect legislators from false reports. "We will be persecuted in the newspaper, we will be found guilty in the media if there is an error and we are not given the opportunity to show it is an error," she said. When asked if she knew of any errors in lobbying reports, Backer said: "No, I do not." Could the closed-record option be open to abuse by lawmakers? "Absolutely," Backer said. "I wish I could make a law that was absolutely foolproof. I resent the implication that I am trying to hide information from the press. It is not our intent to say, `Hey, Ethics Commission, be sure you drag this out for six months so none of these reports are open.' " The House passed the bill (SB16) on a vote of 131-2. It returns to the Senate, which passed a different version. Legislators will try to work out the differences before the session ends May 16. Backer originally proposed that lobbyists' gifts be limited to no more than $50 at a time and $100 a year for each legislator. …

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