St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 25
Want Legislature’s attention? Write a bigger check:
Toward the end of his reign as speaker of the Missouri House in 2012, Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, took two important steps to make sure his next career - lobbyist - would be lucrative.
First, after pretending he was in favor of a sweeping ethics reform package, he made sure that any true reforms, such as closing the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying, didn’t pass.
Then, shortly before resigning to start his own lobbying and political consulting practice, he set up a committee to study the state’s transportation needs.
Mr. Tilley’s first clients? The concrete lobby, of course, the construction, engineering and design firms that stand to benefit if a sales tax increase for roads passes on the November ballot.
The Legislature voted this month to put the measure before voters. Mr. Tilley, because he has no shame, lobbied hard for it. He also may have put some financial skin into the game.
On May 10, the Saturday before the session ended, four days before the sales tax measure ultimately passed, the House Republican Campaign Committee - which raises money for GOP House candidates - received a $10,000 check from Mr. Tilley’s campaign committee, Friends of Tilley.
Mr. Tilley isn’t actually running for office any more, but because he helped make sure Missouri remains an ethics-free zone, he uses that kitty of approximately $900,000 to supplement his lobbying business.
Mr. Tilley’s no fool. He knows making such a donation the final week of session oozes Eau de Corruption. In fact, it was during the final week of his last session as speaker when Mr. Tilley criticized then-GOP gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence for trying to buy favor with fellow Republicans by inviting them to his luxury suite to watch Blues games. Mr. Tilley knows how the game is played. That was payback for Mr. Spence proposing strong new ethics laws that would have made much of what Mr. Tilley now does illegal.
According to Missouri Ethics Commission records, Mr. Tilley’s $10,000 donation came the day after he signed up Tesla Motors as a lobbying client. Tesla was trying to beat back another unethical trick common in the Legislature: Special interests trying to slip a provision into law at the last minute, without a hearing, in this case a law that would have undermined Tesla’s business model.
Two days after Mr. Tilley’s donation, Majority Leader Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, declared the Tesla bill dead. Pure coincidence, both Mr. Diehl and Mr. Tilley insist. The check couldn’t have been related to Tesla, said the HRCC, because even though the check was deposited on the 10th, it was dated May 2.
Fact is, we don’t know why Mr. Tilley wrote that check. But its timing, and its mere existence, from a campaign account that shouldn’t even be allowed to exist, casts a dark cloud over every vote taken - or not taken - the last week of the session involving one of Mr. Tilley’s clients.
Maybe that’s the way the lawmaker-turned-lobbyist wants it. Like uber-donor Rex Sinquefield, who cut a $1.5 million check to his Grow Missouri committee a few days after the Republicans followed his marching orders and put a potentially devastating tax cut for the wealthy into law, maybe Mr. Tilley makes donations to draw attention to himself. To send a message that he’s here to win and he’s got the cash to make it happen.
Indeed, that is the ultimate lesson of the Missouri Legislature’s 2014 session. This is reality in a state that refuses to limit the flow of money in a corrupt political system.