Ballot petition supports open records and limits on lobbying donations

By Brendan Crowley and Annika Merrilees
Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — Volunteers and organizers from Clean Missouri stacked boxes filled with signatures at the Missouri Secretary of State’s office last week.

Clean Missouri reported that they’d gathered 346,956 signatures. The secretary of state’s office will now go through the petitions to verify them and determine if the organization’s proposed constitutional amendment focusing on government ethics will be put on the ballot in November.

Clean Missouri proposes to:

  • Limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers to $5 or less.
  • Make legislators wait two years after leaving office before lobbying.
  • Lower campaign limits to $2,000 for House candidates and $2,500 for Senate candidates.
  • Make the state Legislature follow the same open-records laws as other government bodies in Missouri.
  • Create the post of “nonpartisan state demographer” to redraw district maps for legislative approval.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, addressed the ballot petition from the Senate floor May 3.

He has been a vocal advocate of lobbying reform.

“This body had an opportunity to address the issue and didn’t do it,” Schaaf said. “People in Missouri are fed up with this.”

The Senate passed a bill including a total ban on lobbyist gifts on April 11. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, would also change term limits for legislators.

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City and executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said that lobbyists, large donors and small groups of political insiders have too much influence in the Capitol.

“When I think of what goes on in Jefferson City, I’m reminded of the prophet Amos,” Gould said. “(Amos) said, ‘For I know your crimes are many, and your sins are innumerable. They oppress the righteous, take bribes, and deprive the poor of justice at the city gates.’”

She said the people of Missouri are united to end “systemic corruption” in the Missouri Legislature.

Khadijah Wilson, a leader with the Organization for Black Struggle, said she believes the amendment will make it possible for more people to run for office.

“Too often, the only people running for political offices are the rich or the well-connected, or the people who cave to special interests,” Wilson said. “This amendment levels the playing field.”

John Saxton, a St. Louis Republican who ran twice for the Missouri House of Representatives, advocated for the state demographer position that the ballot measure would establish. Under the proposal, the demographer would be chosen by the Senate majority and minority leaders from a list of at least three candidates offered by the state auditor.

“Year after year, insiders draw lines to protect and re-elect powerful incumbents, whether or not they represent the public interest,” Saxton said. “Most districts in our state are not competitive.”

Saxton’s opponent in the 2016 election, Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, won with almost 89 percent of the vote. Pierson’s father, former Rep. Tommie Pierson, defeated Saxton in 2014 with 86 percent of the vote.

Callaway County farmer Jeff Jones said he talks to his legislators about agricultural policy.

“But the legislative leadership takes millions of dollars in big-money donations,” said Jones, who is a leader with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. “They have not been hearing my voice.”