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It seems that the State Senate is doing something to try to put the kibosh on all the recent talk about corruption in the Missouri legislature. Wednesday they approved a bill (SB11) that would close a loophole that allows lobbyists to “wine and dine” groups of legislators without reporting the individuals who drank and dined on their dime. If the bill makes it to and through the House in its present form, it would also prohibit legislators from going to work as lobbyists until after a two-year “cooling” off period.

Efforts to amend the bill to eliminate or control lobbyists gifts and to cap campaign donations were discarded via procedural means or defeated through voice votes, both mechanisms that allow lawmakers to avoid going on the record in support of corrupt practices. So essentially, the Missouri Senate voted only for “transparency,” which is Missouri legislative speak for saying that now we will probably get to know more about who has bought our politicians although we can’t do much about it. Whoopeee! Oh, and special interests have to wait to buy statehouse influence in the form of ex-pols.

There is, though, one more provision that is especially interesting. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, would prohibit out-of-state travel paid for by lobbyists with the exception of “a nonprofit organization hosting an educational event.” Sounds benign, doesn’t it? But think again.

I suspect entities like the corporate funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) qualify as such a nonprofit organization. But ALEC also offers a “corporate-funded scholarship program” that flies “politicians across the country for ALEC conferences at luxury hotels, where they are wined and dined by lobbyists.” These meetings are often justified as “educational.” Would ALEC’s non-profit status protect the relationship it has with many Missouri legislators?  The organization claims it has ties to at least 57 Missouri lawmakers. According to NPR:

ALEC is sort of almost a dating service between politicians at the state level, local elected politicians, and many of America’s biggest companies. It brings them together much as a dating service would do. It sits them in rooms behind closed doors where three times a year they come together to think about what should be the next wave of state-based legislation and they have presentations from the companies that say what they would like to see done legislatively in states right across America. Then they have a vote and the legislators begin. Hundreds of state legislators across America belong to ALEC and come to these meetings.

ALEC pays for legislators to attend meetings where, as Progress Missouri puts it, “corporations hand Missouri legislators wish lists in the form of ‘model’ legislation that often directly benefit their bottom line at the expense of Missouri families,”  and  our representatives then “pass-off the bills as their own ideas and important public policy innovations without disclosing that corporations crafted and pre-voted on the bills at closed-door meetings with legislators who are part of ALEC.”

Two such ALEC-type bills have just been introduced into the Missouri House. Rep. Eric Burlison (R-133) and Rep. Courtney Curtis (D-073) are fronting classic ALEC right-to-work bills. Both bills would “disallow labor unions from charging non-union members fees for representing them when workers collectively bargain.”

Burlison mouths the standard ALEC line; he claims that he’s interested in saving “jobs” and contends that asking non-union workers to pay their share for their union-secured benefits scares off those elusive and fragile job-creators conservatives keep telling us about. He does  have a novel if somewhat logic-challenged response to the charge that right-to-work depresses wages: he asserts that his right-to-work  “might cut those wages that are ‘artificially inflated’ by unions, but denied the policy might hurt an employee’s bottom line.” Hnnnh? Curtis, on the other hand, claims that his interest in right-to-work stems from concerns about racial discrimination by unions – in spite of the fact that in hearings on the bill African-American labor union members contested his assertions.

Neither of the sponsors acknowledge a debt to ALEC. However, Progress Missouri analyzed both bills, HB116 and HB569, along with similar ALEC model legislation and the resemblance is notable. Burlison has been explicitly identified as one of the Missouri ALEC acolytes.

If my reading of the provision concerning out-of-state travel is correct in regard to corporate-funded entities such as ALEC, the legislation that the Missouri Senate just passed would do nothing discourage lawmakers like Burlison who are willing to shill ALEC wares in our statehouse. The 47-57 Missouri lawmakers with ALEC ties will continue to attend ALEC meetings, often on the ALEC dime, and bring home ALEC’s wishlist which they will then visit on the unsuspecting citizens of the state.

Apropos of the efforts to amend his legislation to make it strong enough to be meaningful, Senator Richard asserted that “ethics bills had died for the last four years because they attempted to cover too many issues.” If that is the case then his bill should pass easily since it does practically nothing except possibly, in some cases, shine a little more light on who’s making it big at the corporate swap-meet in Jefferson City.

*Paragraph beak added between 2nd and 3rd paragraph from the bottom.