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Lobbyist Gift Restriction Approved

April 04, 1996
By: Reece Rushing
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - During the four hours the House spent on the lobbyist gift-ban bill Wednesday, Rep. Greg Canuteson, the bill's sponsor, did not receive one word of support. Then it came time to vote, and the House vote board lit up green.

Canuteson, after trying to pass lobby reform for three straight years, had finally succeeded.

But judging by the chilly reception the bill received from House members during floor debate, it would have been impossible to predict such overwhelming support.

At one point, the House burst into applause after a speech by Rep. Fletcher Daniels in which he attacked the bill, saying that it makes the House look like "crooks" when in fact lobbyists exert no influence over legislators through the buying of gifts or dinner.

Numerous amendments were tacked onto the bill, as well, one of which requires the hiring of two investigators and one secretary to both the ethics commission and the attorney general's office to help oversee lobbyist activity.

Canuteson, D-Liberty, said he did not think there was any reason to hire additional staff and accused the amendment's sponsor, Rep. O.L. Shelton, of trying to sabotage the bill by making it appear expensive.

But Shelton, D-St. Louis, said that the two offices could not monitor lobbyists in the way the bill requires without some additional assistance.

Rep. Bill Auer offered up another amendment - one he eventually withdrew - in an effort to mock Canuteson's attempt at making the legislature "pure," which said, "No public official or public official's staff member, employee, spouse or dependent child shall be an employee of a lobbyist or lobbyist principal."

"I think members of this body should be unemployed, single individuals because they have no conflicts of interests," Auer jokingly told Canuteson, whose wife has recently been a registered lobbyist.

Despite being hit from all angles throughout the floor debate, Canuteson still emerged with a victory. The reason many in the House supported the bill despite their misgivings, Rep. Bill Gratz said, had little to do with solving a real problem and more to do with it being an election year.

"I do not know anyone in this body who can be bought with a meal," Gratz appealed to his colleagues on the floor. "If you vote for this bill, you are saying that you can be bought with a meal and that there is a problem."

Canuteson responded in his closing remarks by comparing a lobbyist buying a dinner for a legislator to a defendant buying dinner for a judge.

"It shouldn't happen," he said. "People are tired of reading about the wining and dining of lobbyists."

Soon after, the bill passed with ease. The Senate has already passed similar legislation, but the differences between the two plans still have to be worked out in a conference committee.

No central Boone County House member voted in support of the proposal:

Tim Harlan, D-Columbia - No

Ken Jacob, D-Columbia - Abstained

Jim Pauley, D-Ashland - Absent