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Lobbyist Freebies Restricted

March 05, 1996
By: Pablo Hernandez
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Senators agreed on Tuesday to a rule that will limit the freebies they can accept from lobbyists.

"I like to listen to the people's ideas, not their money," said Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, sponsor of the rule.

The new Senate rule prohibits senators from accepting any gift valued at more than $50 from lobbyists.

The total value of food, beverage or other gifts that a Senator can receive over the course of a year cannot exceed $100 under the new rule. If a senator accepts freebies exceeding the limits, he will have 30 days to give the money back to the lobbyist.

Exempted from the restrictions are group meals in which a lobbyist invites an entire committee to dinner.

The rule applies only to the Senate and will take effect March 18 - the day the legislature returns from next week's spring break.

While the rule was approved by an overwhelming vote of 27-6, opponents charged it was just election-year gimmick.

"It has a lot of to do with being in an election year," said Sen. William Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, who voted against the bill.

"Most of the people who supported the chamber rule are the first in line for these receptions and for the free tickets to sporting events...so this is hypocrisy in the highest," he added.

But Singleton said he hopes that the rule will "eliminate the perception that we are up here getting rich," he said.

He said the purpose of the rule was to eliminate costly trips out of the state and expensive meals that are currently being paid for by lobbyists.

But Clay argued by limiting lobbyists from picking up senate dinner tabs, more taxpayers money will be spent by lawmakers for meals.

Clay confessed that he "will probably break the rule on several occasions."

Sen. Joe Moseley, D-Columbia, said that he likes the rule, but only after the exemptions were added to the rule.

Without the exemptions, Moseley said that the rule "would have forbidden everything."

He cited as an example a group of visitors from his district who left an apple in his office.

"That would have been forbidden under the original rule," Moseley said.