The Jeff City Gift Culture, by the Numbers

Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) records show that state legislators, statewide officials, judges and local officials have accepted more than $10,810,500 in gifts from lobbyists since 2004. On average, that’s $900,000 — every year — in free meals, booze, trips, lodging and other gifts. Almost all of these gifts go to members of the General Assembly and their staff members.

This report compiles and analyzes the lobbyist gift records, shines a light on glaring loopholes in state law that allow millions of dollars worth of freebies to be reported opaquely, and provides regional data for top gift recipients across the state.

Highlights of our research to date include:

  • More than $10.8M worth of food, drinks, travel and other gifts have been provided to Missouri officials since 2004 by registered lobbyists.
     
  • Most of these gifts were reported as going to groups, depriving the public of basic information about which officials consumed the free meals and drinks provided by professional influencers.
     
  • Ryan Silvey, Tom Dempsey, Mike Talboy, Mike Parson and Paul LeVota top all gift recipients since 2004 (the first year for which data is available), when including gifts given to their official staff and family with their individual totals.
     
  • The staff of Senator Kurt Schaefer has taken more gifts than any other legislative staff. All told, $498,237 in gifts have been reported for legislators’ staff and family members since 2004.

Table of Contents

Data Sets

For anyone interested in downloading the full data sets and charts used to create this report, they are available at the following links:

Almost one million in freebies, every year

Missouri legislators, statewide officials, judges and local officials have accepted more than $10,810,500 in gifts from lobbyists since 2004, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.

On average, that’s $900,000, every year, in free meals, booze, trips, lodging and other gifts. Almost all of these gifts go to members of the General Assembly and their staffs, though registered lobbyists are also sending freebies to statewide officials, municipal officials and judges as well.

Incredibly, this is a partial total of the free meals, travel and other gifts provided to officials. The MEC only has records of local official gifts since 2008, and many gifts provided to legislators by foundations and other groups are reported on the annual financial disclosure statements legislators file with the MEC, and are not included in the Commission’s lobbyist gift database.

This is an obscene quantity of gifts, the overwhelming majority of which goes to a legislature with fewer than 200 members, given by professional influencers hired by corporations, organizations and individuals to advance their agendas in the legislature.

The true recipients of most lobbyist gifts in Missouri are hidden — by design

Lobbyist gifts are reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission in one of three ways:

  • gifts to individual legislators
  • gifts to legislators’ staff members or family members
  • gifts to groups

This seems like a fairly straightforward way to categorize lobbyist gift-giving. However, loose rules about what constitutes a ‘group expenditure’ allow an enormous portion of all lobbyist gifts to reported in an opaque manner. The guidance provided by the Ethics Commission states that gifts may be reported as going to legislative chambers, committees or caucuses so long as all of the members of that group are invited in writing. It does not matter if only a small subset of the group chooses to take the free gifts.

The end result is the the public is deprived of basic information about which of their elected leaders are taking the majority of the $900,000 to $1,000,000 in lobbyist gifts each year.

As you can see, an enormous portion of all gifts are reported as ‘group expenditures’ with the Missouri Ethics Commission, effectively hiding the true recipients of the gifts from public review.

Some of these ‘group expenditures’ are for gifts that truly go to large groups — buffet lines in the Capitol rotunda, or meals provided during committee hearings for legislators who are present. But many ‘group’ gifts are actually given to specific legislators’ offices, or to easily identifiable subsets of committees or caucuses. Consider the following gifts, all of which are classified as ‘group expenditures,’ and are not found on their relevant legislators’ gift reports:

  • In May 2015, lobbyist Brent Hemphill provided $137.39 worth of food and beverage to Sen. Brian Munzlinger’s office for a Cinco De Mayo celebration. But the gift was actually reported as going to the “Entire Missouri Senate,” not Munzlinger himself. Munzlinger’s office also received $117.16 worth of food and drink from CJ’s Wings in May, but that also was reported as going to the “Entire Missouri Senate.”
  • In February 2014, Rex Sinquefield’s lobby shop, the Gate Way Group, provided a $496.38 “breakfast in Senator Sater's office,” but the meal was reported as going to the “Entire Missouri Senate,” not Sater.
  • In April 2015, Sen. Gary Romine’s office received $287 worth of chai from a lobbyist for the Missouri Optometric Association. These gifts were reported to the Ethics Commission as going to the “Entire Missouri Senate,” however.

Simply put: There is an enormous loophole in state reporting requirements that allows professional lobbyists to hide which individual officials and staff members are availing themselves to the free food, drinks and other gifts.

ALEC legislators and lobbyists are using the Group Expenditure Loophole to hide thousands in free food, booze, and entertainment

The abuse of Missouri’s ‘group expenditure’ loophole is especially flagrant when it is used to hide the true recipient of meals and drinks on out-of-state trips with lobbyists. Going back years, extravagant meals provided on American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are hidden from legislators’ individual gift reports, even though the professional vote counters providing the meals and entertainment know exactly which politicians are on the trip.

From 2007-2014, a whopping $31,000 in meals, drinks and entertainment gifts were provided to ALEC legislators during the organization’s annual retreats, but reported as going to the “Entire General Assembly” or “All Statewide Elected Officials and All Legislators” when lobbyists filed their spending reports with the Ethics Commission. For example:

  • In 2008, $1,000 was spent on legislators’ tickets to Cubs game during that year’s ALEC meetings. The tickets were reported as going to the “Entire General Assembly,” even though the entire legislature could not possibly have been in attendance.
  • In 2011, lobbyists reported that more than $5,000 in meal expenses given to “All Statewide Elected Officials & All Legislators,” even though the entire General Assembly and all of the statewide officials were not in attendance.

A chart detailing ALEC-related gifts may be found below.

In August 2015, the Missouri Ethics Commission ruled that free food and drinks provided to former Speaker John Diehl, former Speaker Tim Jones, Sen. Ed Emery, Rep. Sue Allen and Sen. Wayne Wallingford during the 2014 ALEC junket in Dallas, TX were improperly reported as ‘group expenditures.’ However, the MEC’s rebuke of the lobbyists’ reports focused on the fact that not all members of the General Assembly received written invitations to the dinner. Politicians’ freebies will continue to be hidden behind dishonest ‘group expenditure’ reports, so long as lobbyists keep their paperwork in order.

Which legislators are taking the most gifts?

Lobbyists give to both Republican and Democratic legislators, in large quantities. Indeed, Democrats can be found among the top gift recipients each year, and overall since 2004.

Overall Top 25 Totals, Legislators + Their Offices and Family Members, 2004-2015

  1. Silvey, Ryan - $57,816
  2. Curls, Kiki - $56,141
  3. Dempsey, Tom - $55,831
  4. Talboy, Mike - $55,762
  5. Parson, Mike - $45,359
  6. Levota, Paul - $42,706
  7. Richard, Ron - $38,313
  8. Callahan, Victor - $36,387
  9. Colona, Mike - $34,841
  10. Lembke, Jim - $34,175
  11. Green, Tim - $34,036
  12. Diehl, John - $30,913
  13. Webb, Steve - $30,256
  14. Schaefer, Kurt - $29,448
  15. Scharnhorst, Dwight - $28,827
  16. Funderburk, Doug - $28,119
  17. Rupp, Scott - $27,861
  18. Jones, Tim - $27,243
  19. Stream, Rick - $26,511
  20. Holsman, Jason - $26,354
  21. Nasheed, Jamilah - $25,615
  22. Smith, Joe - $25,280
  23. Ridgeway, Luann - $25,183
  24. Gatschenberger, Chuck - $25,064
  25. Walsh, Gina - $25,011

Top 25 Individual totals, without staff or family gifts, 2004-2015

  1. Talboy, Mike  - $54,665
  2. Curls, Kiki  - $51,646
  3. Dempsey, Tom  - $45,572
  4. Silvey, Ryan  - $43,869
  5. Parson, Mike  - $39,677
  6. LeVota, Paul  - $36,250
  7. Colona, Mike  - $34,399
  8. Green, Tim  - $30,809
  9. Lembke, Jim  - $28,181
  10. Richard, Ron  - $27,628
  11. Webb, Steve  - $26,201
  12. Scharnhorst, Dwight   - $24,937
  13. Smith, Joe  - $24,932
  14. Funderburk, Doug  - $24,315
  15. Diehl, John - $23,466
  16. Walsh, Gina  - $22,854
  17. Nasheed, Jamilah  - $22,743
  18. Rupp, Scott  - $22,392
  19. McKenna, Ryan  - $22,303
  20. Gatschenberger, Chuck  - $21,814
  21. Spreng, Michael  - $21,469
  22. Holsman, Jason  - $20,677
  23. Gray, Rochelle Walton  - $20,664
  24. Cooper, Shannon  - $20,106
  25. Stream, Rick  - $19,932

Top Groups, 2004-2015

  1. Entire General Assembly - $2,462,786
  2. Entire Missouri Senate - $954,594
  3. All Statewide Elected Officials & All Legislators - $545,112
  4. House Majority Caucus -  $505,539
  5. Entire Missouri House - $373,904
  6. Senate Majority Caucus - $263,942
  7. Senate Republican Caucus - $159,291
  8. House Minority Caucus - $157,767
  9. Budget - $104,574
  10. Appropriations - $74,803
  11. Judiciary - $65,390
  12. Republican Leadership Caucus -  $56,993
  13. Insurance Policy - $56,971
  14. Local Government - $55,846
  15. Utilities - $50,909

Top St. Louis Region Gift Recipients, 2004-2015

  1. Dempsey, Tom - $55,831
  2. Colona, Mike - $34,841
  3. Lembke, Jim - $34,175
  4. Green, Timothy P. - $34,036
  5. Diehl, John - $30,913
  6. Webb, Steve - $30,256
  7. Scharnhorst, Dwight - $28,827
  8. Funderburk, Doug - $28,119
  9. Rupp, Scott - $27,861
  10. Jones, Timothy W - $27,243

Top Kansas City Region Gift Recipients, 2004-2015

  1. Silvey, Ryan - $57,816
  2. Curls, Shalonn (Kiki) - $56,141
  3. Talboy, Mike- $55,762
  4. Levota, Paul - $42,706
  5. Callahan, Victor- $36,387
  6. Holsman, Jason -$26,354
  7. Ridgeway, Luann -$25,183
  8. Justus, Jolie - $23,262
  9. McGhee, Mike - $19,906
  10. Wilson, Yvonne - $18,659

Top Southwest Missouri Gift Recipients, 2004-2015

  1. Parson, Mike - $45,359
  2. Richard, Ron - $38,313
  3. Flanigan, Tom - $19,081
  4. Dixon, Bob - $18,877
  5. Hunter, Steve - $17,536

Lobbyist Gift Spending on Legislative Staffers 

Lobbyist gift giving is sometimes a family affair. Often underreported in the media, huge sums of money are spent on the legislative aides and family members of legislators as well. Since 2004, $498,237 in gifts have been reported for legislators’ staff and family members. Most of the gifts in this category appear to be given to Representatives’ legislative staffer, or to Senators’ chiefs of staff. 

Which staff leads the pack? From 2011-2014, no office took more gifts than that of Sen. Kurt Schaefer. In 2012, Schaefer told constituents that he refused all lobbyist gifts — but his staff sure accepted a lot of gifts. Since 2007, an amazing $27,358 in gifts have been given to Schaefer staff and family.

Records for gifts provided to Schaefer’s Chief of Staff, Yancy Williams, show that some of the individual meals and items are quite large. This year, for instance, Williams has accepted individual meals worth $433, $94 and $50. In 2014, Williams accepted individual meals valued at $463, $450, $98, $94, $92 and $88.

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