What would happen if a state lifted all limits on lobbying gifts and campaign contributions? Ask Missouri. It’s the only state that imposes no limit on either type of influence peddling. Around here, you can give as much money as you want to a candidate [see: Missouri’s own Koch-Brothers wannabe, Rex Sinquefield], and lobbying organizations can buy whatever for whomever. And the “Show-Me” state is showing everybody what can go wrong.
Last week, the Republican-controlled Missouri state legislature started holding committee hearings to discuss some proposed bills. That sounds innocuous enough, but there’s a twist: The hearings were being held not in the customary place—the committee hearing rooms in the state capitol—but at the Jefferson City Country Club, where lobbyists were picking up the dinner tab.
Holding committee hearings off-campus is not just unusual, it’s highly suspect, because lobbyists are footing the bill for dinner and discussion of bills that affect them.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The four Republicans who showed up for the sham telecommunications hearing…dined on saffron sea bass, honey miso chicken and eight-ounce filet of steak au poivre, paid for by the very industries they regulate.
Fortunately, for once, progressive watchdogs and local media were on the job, and when they smelled the ethically challenged sea bass, they let the rest of us know.
It turns out that, last year, the newly elected Speaker of the Missouri House—Republican John Diehl– had previously said, in a radio interview, that he didn’t approve of the lobbyist-dinner practice, and that he would put an end to it when he took office this year. That didn’t happen—until the media got a whiff of the country club dinners and broke the story.
After the headlines hit, and he recognized the negative imagery, Diehl quickly canceled the scheduled off-site hearings and banned future events like them. He may or may not have made that move for ethical reasons, but, still, it took a public outcry to get these things off the agenda. And so, it makes you wonder what other now-legal, no-lobby-limits shenanigans are going on concurrently, but have yet to be made public. This is what a political money free-for-all looks like.