JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lobbyist spending on Missouri lawmakers has dropped by 94% since voters approved a $5 cap on gifts last year.
A KCUR analysis of state data concludes that lobbyists spent less than $17,000 on lawmakers in this year’s legislative session compared with last year’s spending of about $300,000.
“These sorts of financial gifts or benefits that have been directed to lawmakers don’t actually buy their votes, but they do buy access,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at University of Missouri. “That access is important because lawmakers have to decide how they are going to spend their time and what energy they want to devote to different topics.”
More than 60% of voters supported the change in November.
Now, according to Squire, most of the spending is on larger events that all lawmakers can attend. There is still a $5 limit per lawmaker for those events.
Kelly Gillespie, lobbyist and president of the Missouri Biotech Association, said his group last year spent about $4,000 on a tour of life science businesses in western Missouri in an effort to educate lawmakers on drug discovery and health care affordability. That amount is prohibited under the new rules.
“I believe that the state is worse off by not having an education program like that where there is absolutely no direct ask of these legislatures other than, ‘Can you make Missouri better?'” Gillespie said.
But he said he understands why voters supported the change to spending protocols.
“There were other folks that were taking people to the Daytona 500 or to rock concerts or Masters golf tickets,” Gillespie said. “And there was a feeling that it had gotten too much, and it was the Wild West.”
Sean Soendker Nicholson, campaign director at the organization Clean Missouri, said lobbyist spending was a bipartisan issue.
“Voters left, right and center were all disgusted at the problem that was in Jefferson City,” he said.