Missouri auditor faults lawmakers for lobbyist gifts

JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri Auditor Susan Montee criticized lawmakers for potential conflicts of interest Monday for soliciting lobbyists to pay for meals, parties and retirement receptions.

Montee said in separate but similar audits of the House and Senate that some expenses were not reported by lobbyists to the state Ethics Commission. She said lawmakers should “reconsider the practice of soliciting donations from lobbyists” and should notify them of ethics requirements.

In written responses, the House and Senate generally defended their interactions with lobbyists and noted that state law puts the responsibility on lobbyists to report their expenses.

Montee is a Democrat up for re-election next year; the House and Senate each are controlled by Republicans.

The audits said the Senate received $76,070 from more than 100 lobbyists from December 2003 to June 2008 and placed the money in a special account outside of the regular state treasury. Montee said there is no law allowing such an account.

The audit said the Senate spent $60,945 on such things as food and beverages during evening sessions, Christmas parties, gift cards for Senate staff and country club retirement receptions for term-limited senators.

Of 15 lobbyist donations to the Senate made between April and August 2008, nine were not properly reported by lobbyists on monthly expenditure reports filed with the Ethics Commission, the audit said.

The Senate's written response said the lobbyist donation fund was created to save the state money and has boosted “transparency and accountability” for the expenditures. The Senate agreed to provide notice about Ethics Commission requirements to future donors.

But the House said in its written response that it would be “an inappropriate violation of the segregation of duties” for it to tell lobbyists to report expenses.

Instead of receiving money from lobbyists, the House asks lobbyists to pay vendors directly for meals, parties and retirement receptions , the audit said. Consequently, no dollar amount was available for the lobbyist expenditures on behalf of the House, and auditors were unable to determine if lobbyists properly reported those expenses to the Ethics Commission.