- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Some legislative staffers at the Missouri Capitol have been earning money moonlighting as political consultants for candidates and campaigns, a practice that critics say could represent a conflict of interest.

Statehouse staff members doing campaign work has been a longstanding practice in Jefferson City, and it’s legal as long as political work isn’t done on taxpayer time, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1ktvbR1 ). The practice is seen by many as harmless because it typically involves low-level legislative aides working on their bosses’ re-election campaigns.

But critics of the practice say it represents a potential conflict of interest, with the integrity of the legislative process compromised when staff members who earn taxpayer-funded salaries also get paid by outside interests with a stake in policy outcomes.

“It has a corrupting influence on the process,” said John Lamping, a former Republican state senator from St. Louis County. “It’s America, and you’re supposed to be able to do whatever you want to do in life. But this is how we get the system we have today.”

When a staff member gives a lawmaker advice on a bill or pushes for a certain outcome, it’s important that the public knows it is for policy reasons and not to benefit a campaign, a donor or a consulting career, said Kevin McManus, a former Democratic state representative who now serves on the Kansas City Council.

“Some of these staff positions are incredibly influential,” he said. “They act as gatekeepers and trusted advisers. The question becomes, ‘Who’s paying you and how do their objections impact how you do your day job in the Legislature?’”

But most legislative aides in the Missouri House make less than $30,000 a year, said Adam Crumbliss, chief clerk of the House. He said that when it comes to campaign work, “they’ll probably be more of the, ‘Let’s go to dinner and fold envelopes and stuff ‘em,’ rather than any sort of high-level political consulting.”

He also said political work has to be done on staff members’ own time and outside of the Capitol. Many use comp time when the legislature isn’t in session to work on campaigns. Others take a leave of absence from their government job.

In the Senate, senior staff can earn up to $78,000 a year, said Senate spokeswoman Anne Marie Moy. Staff must get approval from their senator before they can engage in campaign activities.

James Klahr, director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said state law already forbids legislative staff from using information obtained in their official capacity for personal financial benefit.

But “quid pro quo is never easy to prove,” he said.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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