As Lucy van Pelt used to say in the comic strip Peanuts, Christmas is the "gift-getting" season. Well, it may not be Christmas, but a report released by the Missouri Ethics Commission indicates that many of the Show-Me state's legislators have been getting plenty of gifts - from lobbyists. And at least one of our local legislators has done himself quite proud in that department.
According to an article on the front page of yesterday's West Plains Daily Quill, our local state representative, Shawn Rhodes (Republican, District 154), managed to wind up in eighth place overall (House and Senate - 194 members combined) in gifts received from lobbyists during the six-month period between January and June of this year. Congratulations, Rep. Rhoads, eighth place out of 194 is quite an achievement!
Shawn Rhoads received gifts worth a total of $2,225.01 from lobbyists during that six-month period.
Rhoads told the Quill that six hundred dollars of that total were St. Louis Blues tickets which he gave to some constituents, and nine hundred dollars were St. Louis Cardinals tickets for a game that he attended in June. He said that he also received several tickets that he donated to cystic fibrosis research.
The state representative said that "lobbyist interactions" have been commonplace amongst legislators for centuries and do not affect the way he does his job. He added, "If a meal sways me to vote a certain way, then I don't need to be in office. That would be ridiculous."
Agreed. Politicians swayed by gifts should not be in office.
Shawn, it's all about the appearance of impropriety. State business should be conducted at the state capitol - in committee hearings or on the floor of the General Assembly - out in the public view where the public can witness what is going on. Having meals with lobbyists in restaurants looks improper whether any state business is discussed at those meals or not. If for some reason you do have to break bread with a lobbyist, it would certainly look better if you pulled out your own wallet and paid for your own meal - yourself.
Perhaps you might try to redeem yourself by drafting legislation that would tighten controls on "lobbyist interactions" with legislators. That would certainly be a bold step in the public interest.
And just because something has been going on for "centuries" does not make it right.