Beyoncé tickets. Pricey steak dinners. Royals games.
Lobbyists used to be able to spend thousands in an effort to influence Missouri lawmakers. Voters approved a $5 dollar limit on gifts for lawmakers in November. A KCUR analysis of data released this month by the Missouri Ethics Commission shows there’s been a 94% decrease in spending from the 2019 to 2018 legislative session.
In this year’s session, lobbyists spent less than $17,000 on lawmakers. That’s a significant drop from the about $300,000 spent in the 2018 session.
“These sorts of financial gifts or benefits that have been directed to lawmakers don’t actually buy their votes, but they do buy access,” University of Missouri political science professor Peverill Squire said. “That access is important because lawmakers have to decide how they are going to spend their time and what energy they want to devote to different topics.”
Squire said most of the spending is now on larger events that all lawmakers can attend. There is still a $5 limit per lawmaker for those events.
Lobbyist and president of the president of Missouri Biotech Association Kelly Gillespie said the new rules have changed how he does business.
His association typically invites lawmakers on a tour of life science businesses in Missouri in an effort to educate lawmakers on topics like the drug discovery pipeline and healthcare affordability. In 2018, the association spent about $4,000 taking lawmakers on a tour in western Missouri. This amount of spending is prohibited under the new rules.
“I believe that the state is worse off by not having an education program like that where there is absolutely no direct ask of these legislatures other than, ‘Can you make Missouri better?’” Gillespie said.
Gillespie added that he understood why voters supported the change to lobbyist spending.
“There were other folks that were taking people to the Daytona 500 or to rock concerts or Masters golf tickets,” Gillespie said. “And there was a feeling that it had gotten too much, and it was the wild west.”
More than 60% of voters supported Amendment 1.
“Voters left, right and center were all disgusted at the problem that was in Jefferson City, “ Clean Missouri's campaign director Sean Soendker Nicholson said. “To be clear, it was a bipartisan problem. The top gift takers were both Democratic and Republican legislators.”
There was a typo in the amount of lobbyist spending in 2018. It has been corrected to $300,000.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.