MEC: ALEC junket details improperly hidden from public

The Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) ruled Friday 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 American Legislative Exchange Council junket in Dallas, TX were improperly reported as ‘group expenditures.’ The MEC’s consent order and Letter of Concern indicating that “there were reasonable grounds to believe violations of the law occurred” are posted on the Commission’s website.

The MEC investigation and ruling centered on a “Missouri Night” dinner during the August 2014 American Legislative Exchange Council junket and meetings in Dallas.  The total bill for the meal at the Dallas Chop House was an outrageous $5,686, split between the five legislators, two of their spouses, fifteen lobbyists and fifteen other unidentified individuals. Lobbyists with interests before the General Assembly paid for the extravagant evening.

The free food and drinks provided to Diehl, Jones, Allen, Emery and Wallingford were originally reported as going to the "Entire General Assembly," even though the lobbyists paying for the meal knew exactly which legislators were in Dallas at the luxury steakhouse. Incredibly, some of the lobbyists in question reported the small cab fares for specific legislators before attempting to hide the much larger cost of the meal from those same legislators' gift reports.

“We are glad that the Ethics Commission took action on this obvious violation of the law requiring lobbyists to disclose how much they spend on freebies to legislators,” said Sean Soendker Nicholson of Progress Missouri, who filed the MEC complaint that sparked the investigation.

“However, we are quite concerned that the MEC’s ruling on this matter provides a blueprint for lobbyists and politicians to continue hiding important information from constituents in the future,” continued Soendker Nicholson. “As I read the Commission’s letter, any future gift can be reported as going to a group, even if only a handful of politicians accept the free food or booze, so long as there’s some evidence that all the other legislators in that group got a written invitation. So lobbyists and legislators can continue to party together on luxurious junket, know exactly who takes the gifts, and then dishonestly tell the Missouri public that the ‘entire General Assembly’ was there -- so long as they keep their paperwork straight.”

An alarming portion of lobbyist gifts provided to Missouri legislators are reported in an opaque fashion as ‘group expenditures,’ even when the lobbyists and lobbying interests financing the free meals, liquor and tickets know exactly which of their targets have taken the freebies. In fact, of the $1,336,766.06 in gifts provided to Missouri officials in the past 24 months, more than 65% of that total has been reported as going to groups — leaving constituents with no idea which of their leaders have taken $874,815.23 in free meals, drinks, tickets and trips.

Legislators and lobbyists have been exploiting the group expenditure loophole on ALEC junkets for years to hide the true recipients of free food, booze and entertainment. 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.

Progress Missouri is committed to restoring balance to the democratic process in Jefferson City by reforming state lobbyist and ethics laws.

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