“Personal and moral integrity is one of our basic fundamentals and it has to start with each of us.” – Sam Walton
Should your legislator accept lobbyists’ gifts? Some will not take a dime, and some intentionally keep the amount low, while others happily line up like pigs at the trough. Odds are in favor of your legislator taking at least some gifts from lobbyists.
The definition of a lobbyist under Missouri law is contained in §105.470 of the Missouri Revised Code. A lobbyist is an individual attempting to influence the executive, legislative, and judicial branches or elected local government officials’ actions and meets one or more of the following:
- Is acting in the ordinary course of business
- Is engaged in pay as a lobbyist
- Is designated to act as a lobbyist by any person, business entity, governmental entity, religious organization, nonprofit corporation, association or other entity
- Spends $50 or more on behalf of public officials, annually, from January 1 through December 31st
Lobbyists spend a lot of money on Missouri legislators every year purchasing meals, drinks, tickets to entertainment venues and more. As a result citizens from the political left and right are calling for ethics reform that either limits or bans lobbyists’ gifts outright.
Please do not misunderstand. We do not believe that a lobbyist purchased cup of coffee or cheeseburger will buy a legislator’s vote, but it is hard to draw an effective line in the sand of what is acceptable and what is not. Because of this it is best to keep the gift threshold low and a gift ban is the best way to accomplish that.
Take Walmart for instance. Ten years ago Walmart adopted a stringent ethics policy that goes to the heart of what Missouri is dealing with today. Government is not a center for innovation or forward thinking so it is good for it to look to the private sector and learn.
When it comes to best practices in setting ethics standards few get it better than Walmart. Take a look at what their ethics policy as it relates to gifts says.
“Accepting gifts and entertainment can cause a conflict, or the appearance of a conflict, between personal interests and professional responsibility Walmart’s culture is to never accept gifts or entertainment from any supplier, potential supplier, government agent or other third party the associate has reason to believe may be seeking to influence business decisions or transactions. Associates also may not accept a gift or gratuity from a customer for work performed by the associate in a Walmart facility…” (Walmart, 2015)
The Missouri Legislature should follow suit and acknowledge that accepting gifts and entertainment can cause a conflict, or the perception of a conflict in the pursuit of their professional responsibilities to the people they represent. A lobbyist gift ban will set a high bar for legislators to measure up to.
Still an ethics policy, no matter how stringent, is not a fix-all. In case you missed it some Walmart executives have been under federal investigation in recent years for alleged bribery in Mexico, though it is being reported that the probe has found “few signs of major misconduct”.
The ultimate solution is to hire, or in this case elect, ethical people with an enhanced sense of morality who will adhere to the standard even when they think no one is watching. Banning lobbyist funded gifts, meals, and entertainment will help take away the temptation for legislators to focus on anything other than the business of the people. The time for a gift ban has come.