GOP ‘Reform’ Bill Includes Huge Loophole for ALEC Junkets

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard has talked a big game this year about trying to reform some of the General Assembly’s abysmal ethics laws. But when we dive into the details of his actual legislation (SB11), we are remarkably… underwhelmed.

“There is enough nonsense in this building going on… I am going to try to clear this up before somebody gets indicted,” Richard boasted this winter about his attempts to slow the spinning of the ‘revolving door’ in Jefferson City. Creating a cooling off period of several years so that representatives and senators cannot become lobbyists the day after they leave office is a great idea. But Richard’s legislation would apply to exactly zero politicians in Jefferson City right now. Zero. If Richard’s bill becomes law, it would not take effect until 2017, and would exempt every single person serving in the General Assembly right now. Richard’s bill says:

No member of the general assembly beginning his or her first term in January 2017 or thereafter shall act or serve as a lobbyist, register as a lobbyist, or solicit clients to represent as a lobbyist until the expiration of two years after the conclusion of such member's vacancy from such office.

Talk about a baby step in the right direction.

It gets more convuluted.

Richard also wants to limit freebies for out of state travel, a good step in the right direction towards comprehensive gift limits. But in this bill, Richard specifically carves out the American Legislative Exchange (ALEC) and other 501c3’s who want to wine and dine legislators. What the law would say, if Richard’s bill passes:

No expenditure shall be made on behalf of a state senator or state representative, or such public official's staff, employees, spouse, or dependent children for travel, lodging, food, beverage, or entertainment outside of the state of Missouri.

The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to expenditures made by a nonprofit entity qualified as exempt from federal taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, for travel and lodging expenses if such expenditure is for attendance at a meeting or event outside of the state of Missouri that is sponsored by the nonprofit entity for educational purposes.

ALEC has been conducting its lobbying activities as a 501c3 organization and sending allied politicians on junkets to meet with corporate members behind closed doors for decades, even though the law limits lobbying for 501c3 groups. In fact, Common Cause has filed a lawsuit “accusing ALEC of violating its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by ‘massive[ly] underreporting’ its lobbying activities.”

Bob Edgar, Common Cause's president, said in a statement that ALEC "tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in state houses all over the country that benefits its corporate members." Edgar adds, "ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer." -Mother Jones

Ron Richard, who has served on an ALEC ‘task force’ and supported numerous ALEC proposals in the General Assembly, defended ALEC’s notorious junkets in the The Joplin Globe as “educational.” Remember the absurd $3,000 steak dinner ALEC’s Missouri politicians enjoyed in Dallas last summer?  What was the lesson plan that night, exactly?

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