Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Food Flowing, Ethics Bills Dying as Missouri Legislature Nears Adjournment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Food Flowing, Ethics Bills Dying as Missouri Legislature Nears Adjournment

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * Missouri legislators, who can accept unlimited gifts from lobbyists, dined high on the hog Tuesday literally.

In between the marble columns just outside the doors of the Senate chamber, a butcher carved up three 200-pound hogs.

Hundreds of legislators, staffers and lobbyists lined up for the spread, which featured pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw. It was provided by pork giant Murphy-Brown LLC of Princeton, Mo., a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

Bill Homann, director of administration and compliance for Murphy- Brown, said the company hosted the feast to show "a little appreciation" to the Legislature. Smithfield Foods was sold to a Chinese conglomerate last year after legislators passed a law allowing foreign ownership of up to 1 percent of the state's farmland.

Other than the novelty of having a whole hog on display, the feed was far from unusual.

Legislators are feted with free food in the Rotunda, basement hearing rooms and area restaurants from morning to night. Big- ticket items outside the Capitol, such as expensive dinners, sporting event tickets and out-of-state travel, helped push the total of freebies to nearly a million dollars' worth in 2013, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.

And with only three days left before they adjourn for the year, that's unlikely to change. Legislators have stymied bills that would ban or limit such gifts.

A bill on the House debate calendar would cap gifts at $50 per expenditure and $750 per legislator each quarter. The sponsor, Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, planned to tighten the bill by making the $750-per-quarter limit apply as an aggregate that a legislator could receive from all lobbyists.

But Rowden said Tuesday that House Republican leaders decided against debating the bill on the House floor because it was too late for it to pass in the Senate. "We'll file it next year," he promised.

Senators, meanwhile, have shelved bills that would have barred most lobbyist-paid meals and out-of-state junkets for legislators and imposed a one-year cooling-off period before legislators could become lobbyists, among other things.

"Without a doubt, the vast majority of members of both (political parties') caucuses don't want any changes to the day-to-day goings- on down here," said Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, who sponsored an ethics overhaul. "They don't want caps on gifts, they don't want to stop the flow of meals and trips. They don't want any of that."

Secretary of State Jason Kander outlined a sweeping ethics proposal in January. Kander, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday that he was "disappointed that the Republican leadership appears to have given up on fixing the worst set of laws in the country.

"The argument they used all session that it's 'too hard' to pass comprehensive reform is insulting to Missourians," Kander said. …

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