Representatives Jason Kander (D) and Tim Flook (r) held a press conference on their ethics reform bill late yesterday morning in the House Lounge at the capitol.
Our previous coverage: Kander (D) and Flook (r): ethics reform legislation in Jefferson City
Representatives Jason Kander (D)(left) and Tim Flook (r)(right).
The transcript of the opening statements:
Representative Tim Flook: …Good morning. Thank you all for being here. I’m Representative Tim Flook and I’m here with my, uh, friend and Democratic colleague Representative Jason Kander. We’re both of the western side of the city, uh, the state, uh, representing Kansas City, large parts, some other areas. Um, as you know, with virtually every year I’ve been in the Missouri legislature there’s always been a question about ethics and conduct in campaigns. Um, every year that I watched politics as a young man in college all the way until, uh, the time that I was elected I’ve seen the issue come up over and over again. Unfortunately it’s always brought up in the context of partisan efforts to make someone look bad. Um, and unfortunate part of that is, is that it, it creates a lot of distrust among the public for, for the efforts of their elected officials…
…And the fact of the matter is, I can tell you from my experience, um, in my time in the legislature and my time as a, as a citizen dealing with both Republican and Democrat elected officials, it’s been my personal experience that most of the people you deal with are very honest and work very hard to follow the rules. And they are ethical people. But there, there is that few, there is a few that will at times bend the rules. Or, there might be conduct that looks like the, that looks bad even though it doesn’t necessarily violate the rules. Um, and, and those things cast, cast doubt with the public on, on our efforts down here.
And, uh, in the last, in this last summer representative, uh, Jason Kander approached me and asked if I’d be interested in working with him on developing a bipartisan piece of legislation to address some of the, the issues and ethics that have arisen in the last two or three years. And I told him I’d be happy to do it, primarily because, like myself, Representative Kander believes that most people down here are very ethical. And that if we, if we work together we can isolate potential loopholes, we can prevent conduct before it happens, and we can instill some trust in what we’re trying to do down here in Jefferson City. And do so in a way that’s not about campaign, or poking somebody in the eye, or trying to create a, an illusion of an ethical violation when there hasn’t been one, but, but with real direct legislation that actually changes policy for the better.
So, Jason and I, I’ll say Representative Kander, I keep wanting to call him on a first name basis ’cause I consider him a friend, uh, Representative Kander and I began outlining some things, some things that we think that we can get both sides of the aisle to agree upon. And, and to, present those in a bipartisan form. I met with Speaker Ron Richard, um, about these efforts and he supports, he supports this effort. And I, and I, Representative Kander has, has talked to min, Minority Leader Paul LeVota and he’s supporting this effort.
There will be other bills proposed, uh, which will, will have different ideas in addition to those we’re laying out. We’re certainly interested in those ideas and would probably add them to the bill. If they’re good they’re good for everybody.
But I think the main purpose today is, is that we start the ball rolling with legislation that’s bipartisan and, and we let the Missouri public know that the best policy comes from people working together. And the best policies that, creating the best laws result in fairness and aren’t about campaign politics.
So, with that being said I’m gonna let Representative Kander outline specifics of our proposed legislation…
…Representative Jason Kander: Well it’s a pleasure to work with representative Flook. He’s one of the most respected members of this body on either side of the aisle, um, and for good reason. He works hard and he’s very serious about the job. Um, just a few minutes ago most of you were in this room for another press conference with Representative Flook. He’s in high demand bcause he does a good job down here, so it’s an honor having him involved in this issue.
And it’s fitting that this be a bipartisan press conference because we’re trying to create a solution, a bipartisan solution to what is, as representative Flook mentioned, a bipartisan problem. It’s a problem in, in the Missouri system, in our, in Missouri’s laws. This is not an attempt to point fingers at anyone in particular. I’m gonna run through for you some of the major, uh, provisions of the bill and then we’d be happy to take your questions. What we’re doing here is we’re, we’re saying that the, the Jeff City sport of choice, which is speculation about whether the FBI is gonna take action, that needs to not be the sport of choice anymore. We need to do, we need, we need to pass laws that empower state investigators to take action, empower state law enforcement.
First major provision, uh, speaks to the, the practice of money laundering, or the potential for money laundering. Missouri’s anything goes system of campaign finances seems to be built, uh, to encourage, not to deter, the laundering of political contributions. And so that’s why it’s, it’s entirely possible and sometimes common practice for Missouri politicians to wash money back and forth between political action committees and in some cases, possibly, to obscure the original source of, of a, the person giving that money in the first place. This bill will prohibit, uh, party and independent political action committees from washing money back and forth and, furthermore, will make it a felony to transfer political money solely for the purpose of hiding the original donor.
On the subject of disclosure, in order to make it even more difficult to obscure the source, uh, of funds and funnel money through political action committees this bill requires all PACs to file electronically [inaudible] the Ethics Commission, which will make all contributions in the state searchable online for the first time. Now, while the electronic filing change will make it easier to prove potential corruption in the court of public opinion, it doesn’t make it easier to prove corruption in, in the court of law. And so the next provision addresses that.
Uh, this bill will change the law by specifically listing camp, a campaign contribution in, in certain circumstances as a, a potential pay for play situations, potential bribe, which even goes beyond, uh, what’s done in Federal law. It makes it very clear that, given a direct exchange for legislative action or official action, that can, uh, be a, that would be a felony.
Furthermore, on the subject of political money laundering, we say out loud with this bill what is obviously true. That is that there are some people in this state who can act as treasurers in dozens of political action committees at once possibly for the purpose of washing political money. These aren’t treasurers in such cases, they’re bag men. If they do it for that reason that’s what they are. And our bill would prohibit anyone from acting as a treasurer or a deputy treasurer of multiple political action committees at a time.
Also this year we choose to address the issue of conflicts of interest that can be presented in Jefferson City. Now on both sides of the aisle potential conflicts of interest ex
ist and they can occur when those serving in a political campaign role also serve in the office, uh, in the official office of a, of a elected official in the state. Most of the folks who do this, unfortunately, are not currently required to disclose their [inaudible], so as a result there’s potential conflicts of interest but, but the public doesn’t know about it because it may not be the elected member, it could be their staff. And so we simply say that if you want to work for an elected official and be a political consultant at the same time it’s not too much for ask, for us to ask that you publicly disclose your dual roles. This bill makes that change.
Now, outside the walls of this building a bipartisan array of political consultants who do not hold government positions are free to contract simultaneously both with elected officials and corporations and other organizations that seek to influence the actions of state government. Yet these consultants are not required to register as lobbyists. With this bill we close this sort of stealth lobbyist loophole in state law and we created the category of a de facto lobbyist. And we shed light on these individual’s attempts to influence the course of legislation.
Now, the next part I think is pretty important and it goes into all of these, all of these provisions. If we are to pass new ethics laws this year, or if we just seek to make existing ethics laws mean something more, then we need a state felony provision that applies to anyone who tries to obstruct an ethics investigation. Without an obstruction of justice law we reward politicians who lie to state investigators. This bill includes an obstruction of justice felony modeled upon the Federal statute.
Finally, this bill is truly comprehensive and that it applies these and many existing laws, ethics laws, not just to state government, but to our counties, or cities, our school boards, and various other municipalities.
The proposals put forth by Representative Flook and myself today are among many needed changes and I’m thankful that several of our colleagues have both this year and in the past suggested other ways to stay one step ahead, one step ahead of the small bipartisan minority of individuals who may seek to violate public trust. What we don’t do is stand here today and tell you that these changes are gonna fix the problem permanently. Over time power and influence finds a way to circumvent the law. So it’s our hope, we’ve discussed this, that several years from now two more legislators will reach across the aisle and seek to close any loopholes that may have developed in the legislation passed in twenty-ten, because this is an ever evolving process.
Finally, the reason for that is because fighting public corruption is like fighting the flue, we come up with a vaccine and the flue comes back the next year with a new strain. So, as the flu adapts vac, adapts, a vaccine must evolve with it. Honest governments like healthy societies are the result of eternal vigilance. And so that’s what we’re prepared to do, that’s why we’re trying to do it in a bipartisan manner. And we’d be happy to take your questions…
Transcript(s) of the media Q and A will follow in subsequent posts.