Representatives Jason Kander (D) and Tim Flook (r) held a press conference on their ethics reform bill on December 14th in the House Lounge at the capitol.
….Question: A question on the forth bullet, [inaudible] pay for play. If for, if for, if for example one of you was approached by a special interest group and they said we want to get legislation [inaudible] passed and then you say, you know, I don’t want, I don’t think, I don’t like that. And they’re like, well, we’ll give your campaign [inaudible] fifty thousand dollars. And then you’re like, well, I can’t do that `cause this law, send it to the, you know, DHCC or the RHCC. Would that still be considered pay for play?
Representative Kander: Probably be two felonies. It would probably be, the first felony being that you’d be taking a campaign contribution in direct exchange for performing an official act and the second felony would be, it’d be, uh, moving money through committees solely for the purpose of obscuring the original donor.
Representative Flook: And, and, and right now that would be illegal. Right now, under different law. So, um, I think the real focus here is this, uh, changing, changing the discussion. Changing the discussion and to get elected officials, people that are running for office to start campaigning on I will be fully disclosing who supports me. And getting the mindset changed. And, on the issue of, of, uh, everybody will want to write this about pay to play, you know the urge is gonna be there. The fact of the matter is that’s not really what it’s all about. It’s really about disclosure, [inaudible] disclosure. And I’ve been in this caucus now for, this will be my, my sixth year this year. And I’ve been chairman of, of what some consider a powerful committee in the House. I have never been approached with anything like that. Ever. And the rules right now are set up to help deter that. We want to close the circle to make sure it doesn’t happen. And for me, I see this as, as, as a Republican and I, I work with these other Republicans here, and, and, just like Representative Kander works with his Democrat friends. We see a lot of people spending the vast majority of their time trying to follow the rules. And because of a potential loophole there’s accusations that things are going on that aren’t. And then because of existing laws there’s things that appear bad, all right. So, what we’re gonna try to do is zero in on some of these things. Close the loopholes so that if somebody makes an accusation there is a remedy. And you know what that does? That makes people that make those accusations take `em far more seriously, because there’s an actual consequence to the accusation. If you think somebody is violating the law then you need to step up and say it and report it. And you need to follow through. And we’re making sure there’s a law on the books. So when somebody comes up and wants to accuse my Speaker or somebody I work direct, directly with of pay to play, and I know they’re wrong, then I can say to `em, I can look at them honestly and say, here’s the law on the books right here. If you really think that happened, sir, there it is right there, do something about it. [crosstalk] And I think that’s important for public trust.
Representative Kander: Real quick, let me add to that. Um, I have no idea what’s going on with, you know, the FBI and all this stuff, in this [inaudible] like I mentioned, this spectator sport in Jeff City. I have no idea what’s going on with FBI investigations and I promise you that’s the way my [inaudible] wants to say it, right. And that’s how it’s gonna say it. But, and remember Representative Flook says, there’s a law for this already, supported, we’re talking about Federal law, and we’re talking about FBI agents and Federal prosecutors working out of Kansas City and St. Louis, for the most part, and have a lot of fish to fry. And all we’re doing is we’re expanding the jurisdiction of state law to make sure that there are more individuals in the state who have jurisdiction over this and their [inaudible] to [inaudible].
Representative Flook: And we’re gonna model the Federal approach in a lot of ways and create more tools. And, we hope, create more trust in the process.
Representative Kander: Right.
Question: How do you help the public understand, though, the difference between the normal contributions and the pay to play idea. Let me use your example that you already used. You, you support stem cell research, I assume people who support stem cell research have supported your campaigns. How do I tell the difference between those contributions and something that would look like you got extra money because you voted for a specific bill that supports stem cell research?
Representative Flook: Well, I think that if, if, if you reduce the number of intramural committees floating around out there, the ability of somebody to see how donations flow is, is a lot better. I think that’s the best way to describe it. And bear in mind there is a, there is a First Amendment right of association, and the First Amendment right to become involved advocating an issue. So, our ability to wipe out committees doesn’t exist. And, and I, and I, I think in some respects the First Amendment rule is correct, we want people to be able to voice their, their positions, um, we don’t want to stop `em. But, we can, if we can eliminate some of these, some of these committees floatin’ around at a high level that really, really don’t need to be there for First Amendment purposes, their only purpose would be to find the legal loophole to create large donations. Okay. You know, if you look, whether it’s the governor or any leader in the House or Senate on both sides of the aisle, anybody on politics in this state is gonna raise a lot of money. It doesn’t take a fifth grade education to look at the art at how campaign donations have risen faster than inflation in the last twenty y
ears. That being the case, we think we need to make steps toward more disclosure and more direct disclosures. If you say you’re for campaign finance limits that’s fine, then be for them. And, uh, and don’t take donations that are broken down through multiple committees. If you, if you say that, uh, if you say that, uh, you are not supported by the teachers unions then decline their donation. And if committees receiving that are sending it to you then you’ll have to ask yourself, do I want to receive support from that committee? I know a large part of their, their donation base is coming from this community and do I really support that community or not? And if I take it do I need to change my position?
Question: You’ve mentioned a couple times that most people here are doing the right thing already. Do you see that there’s an ethics problem in the capitol right now?
Representative Flook: Well, I think that for me, I think the problem is perception. The problem is, is perception is, is with these, these incidents around the state over the last, well, just the last six years, say, um, any, any of those incidents can, can be written about in the press, they can be discussed at the kitchen table or at the coffee shops and it casts doubt on what we’re all trying to do down here. And if you get Representative Kander and I on the right topic we can go at it all afternoon, on debate. You know, and, but I, I think that what is lost in all this translation, in all these stories that is, how many people here are really good people trying to do the right thing. And, and while I might disagree with Representative Kander on a long laundry list of political philosophical issues I never doubted his integrity, character down here at all. I know exactly who I’m dealing with, he’s an honest person trying to follow the rules. And that’s what most of us are. And we cannot establish new policy or install good long term healthy economic growth or, or budget management if people don’t have faith in what we’re doing and understand that when they pay taxes and, and render, and render under the government their obligations that we’re in return trying to uphold the highest standards of integrity we can. So we want to eliminate that perception by closing loopholes, or helping reduce that perception, rather, by closing loopholes together, working together.
Representative Kander: There’s two things I want to say to that. Um, the first is, it doesn’t really matter whether we believe there’s currently an ethics problem. It doesn’t really matter who we believe might have an ethics problem, if we do. I’m not gonna get into that game because the second I start pointing fingers on either side of the aisle is the second I start creating enemies for this bill. And that doesn’t do anything for the state, it doesn’t accomplish ethics reform, uh, getting to the, to the Governor’s desk getting signed. And the second is, to what Representative Flook’s talking about, about the, the issue of public perception, that’s the second reason it doesn’t really matter whether or not we believe there’s a specific ethics problem in this capitol because the public obviously does. It’s a, I`ve, I’ve been to a place where the public has completely lost faith in their government to, to act in their best interest. And I’ve seen the extreme of that, and I’m not suggesting that that’s what Missouri is gonna look like. But I am suggesting that when people lose faith in their government to act in a legitimate manner they stop volunteering, they stop having hope about what’s gonna happen in their community. And every effort we can make in order to restore that hope and restore that confidence in government, it may not work every time, and it may not work completely, but it’s an effort worth making.
Question: Rep, representative, to clarify, when you’re talking about incidents across the state are you talking about lawmakers getting arrested and charged with crimes? Or is it broader than that?
Representative Flook: Well, I think it’s staff, but it’s also just accusations. You know it, um, somebody perfectly, with, with, with compliance with the law can set up and use multiple committees. It happens all the time. Um, as soon as somebody does that the party that doesn’t like what that person believes in attacks them. They attack them, say, oh, look how evil he is, he set up all these committees. Well, in fact they follow the law. But, it creates that perception, all right. And for us, what I want is, I want a playing field where people disclose who they’re directly getting support from. And, Representative Kander agrees. So we think that if we can, we can reduce the number of, of, I call `em, intramural committees floating around that that will really help get more legislators to, to approach this issue like, like he and I do. Which is, okay, am I really for this? If I am I need to stand up and be for it or against it and accept or reject support based on that. And it’s, it’s, it’s an important step. That’s what we liked about the Zimmerman, uh, the Zimmerman, uh, Yates bill from last year.
Question: In, in a year like this, of course there have been these incidents and arrests, and at least one of your former colleagues going to jail, you know, the FBI around asking questions. What’s the effect on this body? What’s the effect on people in the capitol, elected representatives, as it relates to their ability to do their jobs, their ability to work with each other? How is this year, uh, affected the overall mood to this building?
Representative Kander: I don’t think we know.
Representative Flook: Well, I, I, I would say, uh, um, we’ll, we’ll see how it progresses. But I think that, uh, on a [inaudible] I think that job creation’s really what matters right now, balancing our budget and, and fighting inflation. And that’s what we’re really trying to do down here every day. I know Representative Kander really cares about that. But ethics legislation has to come up every few years in order to make sure that faith in government can exist. And I can go home and [inaudible] in support of my, of my constituents on, as me as an individual, but if I come down here and, uh, and all the stories are about ethical problems then we’re not, we’re not focusing on what we really need to focus on for the state. `Cause frankly, most people are pretty good people down here. And we are genuinely trying to put people to work and improve the state. And if we need to change the ethics rules a little bit, to help tighten `em up, in order to restore, uh, some, some faith in the system and keep ourselves vigilant on the ethics side, then we should do that. We should do that so we can focus on the bigger issues and put people to work on those types of [inaudible].
Representative Kander: It [inaudible]. We’ve got to be eternally vigilant to make sure the system is sound.
Question: On, on the three people that have stepped, sitting in the legislature, that have stepped down due to pleading guilty to felonies, two of them plead guilty to lying to Federal investigators about their congressional campaign. One of them took bribes, essentially. It seems like those crimes might, would they have been encompassed under this bill? Would they have been caught earlier? It just doesn’t seem like [crosstalk]…
Representative Kander: When you [crosstalk].
Question: …to connect.
Representative Kander: When you talk about, I think it absolutely connects. When you, when you talk about, uh, any Federal indictment that has to do with obstruction of justice you’re talking about had that been a state investigation and they’d obstructed justice that way in that investigation about that, there would not have been a state charge because there’s currently not a state statute for it. What we learned from that incident is that, you know, uh, during the Scooter Libby stuff, regardless of your stripes, Fitzgerald made, that’s why I can remember him saying it, made a very good argument at that time
. People said, why did you charge this person with obstruction justice of justice instead of the underlying crime? And the argument he made about the importance of an obstruction of justice felony provision is that it’s like a baseball game where the guy’s sliding into home and at the same time he throws sand in the umpire’s face. He can’t then say, well the umpire couldn’t call him out or safe, so he must be safe and there’s no consequence. What you can do is you can say, you can’t throw sand in the face of the umpire, there’s a separate crime for that. And when people are scared of a criminal provision, for throwing sand in the face of that umpire, they’re a whole lot less likely to do it. And that’s why, those individuals you talked about, who were convicted of obstruction of justice at the Federal level, had they done the exact same thing, in state law there wouldn’t be a consequence. And we want to make sure that there’s no free pass for lying to investigators [inaudible].
Question: What’s this bill number?
Representative Flook: When we filed, it hasn’t been assigned a number yet.
Question: On the criminal side [crosstalk].
Question: Can we get a copy of it?
Representative Kander: It’s really big, but we’ll give you a copy.
Question: Do you envision any prosecutor in the state being able to bring these crimes, uh, bring charges for crimes if the occur? Or is this gonna wind up being an extra load here in Cole County because the Ethics Commission is here, the legislature is here, and therefore, theoretically the crime occurred here?
Representative Kander: It can happen in a variety of ways. Um, our focus is on expanding the amount of people who have jurisdiction over this so more people will take action. Basically, all hands on deck, sort of philosophy, right. Well, right now the FBI can investigate any of this stuff, county, city, state. We just want one more entity that can do that. And yes, the Ethics Commission would therefore have jurisdiction to operate under these statutes, but so, too, would, uh, local investigators, so, too, would state, would state prosecutors. And so, too, would the Highway patrol’s investigative division….and it just brings us back to the whole point here, is to say, we don’t have to rely entirely on the FBI to do this, we can also do this in state government.
Question: So is this legislation reactionary to Smith etcetera, and recent [inaudible] going on with the felonies [inaudible].
Representative Flook: No, I wouldn’t say that, because, uh, that implies that, to say it’s reactionary is to say we hadn’t put thought into this prior to the incident, which is not the case. This is, these are concepts that have been around [inaudible] asked questions. What we’re hoping to do is, is that these incidents have shed light on those questions that we’ve been already trying to answer in other legislation in the past. So maybe with these recent incidents we’ll use them as little bit extra energy to move these bills. We know that there’s going to be several ethics bills filed this year, um, some of `em will be, will be, uh, bipartisan, I think [inaudible] ours is probably gonna be the most prominent bipartisan one we know of right now. Um, some of `em are quickly gonna be identified as, as partisan campaign maneuver. Um, we don’t know which is gonna be which, but we do know this, uh, we’ve got [inaudible] people talking about the topic. We’ve got a chance now to do something together and, and really make an effort that everybody can, can, can build on.
Question: If anything’s gonna happen, gonna wind up with some of those bills combined into one larger one?
Representative Flook: That could very well happen. I’ve already talked with the floor leader about this proposal. Um, uh, Steve Tilley would like to see some things added, added to it. I know that, uh, the Democrat, uh, uh, caucus would have some things they want to add. Uh, it’s hard to, it’s hard to put something like this through without having a lot of disagreement and a lot of, uh, a lot of [inaudible]. So, I have time for one more question and then I’m gonna [crosstalk].
Question: To clarify, [inaudible] is this essentially your cau, focus your caucus’ ethics bill? Is this [crosstalk]…
Representative Flook: No [crosstalk]…
Question: You [crosstalk]…
Representative Flook: …I wouldn’t say that. Because, um, [crosstalk] we still have to ask our own caucus members [crosstalk] to, to join with us. We have several people on both sides of the aisle will probably support this. I think on the whole our caucuses are, are genuinely interested in some, some, some real ethics reform. Um, and I think that, to the extent that we can build that body from there we’ll, we’ll keep pushing forward.
Question: But right now you’re independent contractors.
Representative Flook: In some way with the, yeah, but we do have the support of our leadership.
Representative Kander: Right, I mean, Representative LeVota’s already expressed an interest in co-sponsoring the bill, um, I know that Representative Flook’s had positive conversations with the Speaker, so.
We filibuster you guys? You got anything else? All right. Thanks a lot.