December 05, 2012 - Senator-elect Scott Sifton, D-Affton, filed a bill banning lobbyist gifts to legislators.
The bill, Sifton's first in the Senate, will be introduced when the Legislature convenes in January.
"The time has come to address the growing public perception that lobbyists are gaining favor in the legislative process by showering elected officials with personal gifts," Sifton stated in a news release. "My bill contains a tough gift ban intended to close any loophole that might be used to shield gifts from disclosure."
Sifton's bill is considerably more restrictive than other versions introduced in recent legislative sessions, according to the release. It not only bans gifts to legislators, but also prohibits gifts to staff, employees, spouses and children.
The bill also contains new language intended to address the growing practice of using campaign committees to avoid disclosure.
"The bill prohibits legislators from receiving lobbyist donations of food, entertainment, lodging or travel through their campaigns," Sifton stated. "That language is intended to prevent the use of campaign funds to reimburse lobbyists for gifts, a practice many are concerned has been used to hide gifts and limit disclosure."
Sifton cited public perception of the legislative process and avoiding waste of taxpayer funds as reasons the bill is needed.
"The public understandably assumes that lobbyists spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on gifts to legislators because it helps influence legislation," he stated. "It creates an appearance of impropriety that erodes public confidence in the legislative process."
Sifton also contends lawmakers should not need to have their meal expenses covered when taxpayers already give them $104 for meals and lodging each day the Legislature is in session.
"When legislators have lobbyists pay to wine and dine them so they can simply pocket their per diem money, our tax dollars are being wasted," he stated. "How can the public have any confidence in how we handle a $24 billion budget if legislators can't seem to figure out how to stay fed on $104 a day in meal money?"