Candidate spending gets little scrutiny under Missouri ethics laws | State News

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri politicians are cutting corners in the way they report spending campaign funds, and lax ethics laws allow them to do it.

Candidates’ campaign finance reports from the past year are often short on details about how they spent their money. Politicians shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars on political consulting without describing the services purchased, even though state law requires more specificity.

Politicians also spent campaign money freely on food and entertainment. One senator spent $1,000 on a meal for a campaign worker. Another spent thousands on electronics, and one representative spent hundreds at a luxury hotel and on event tickets.

Vague terminology on the reports rarely raises eyebrows at the Missouri Ethics Commission, the body that collects and reviews campaign finance reports. The commission is short-staffed and lacks the resources to effectively review each expenditure reported by a candidate.

Compounding the problem, Missouri statutes are imprecise in delineating the requirements for how candidates should report their expenditures and what is a proper campaign expense.

Those questions are at the center of a case that will be considered by the Missouri Supreme Court this summer, when judges hear an appeal filed by former Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis.

The Ethics Commission found that she spent thousands of dollars of campaign money for personal use, failed to report some contributions and expenses, and overcharged for travel costs. Among the items that the commission determined that she spent campaign funds on were clothes, groceries, dry cleaning, tickets and video games.

Wright-Jones appealed. Her attorney’s brief is due in court on June 19.

Vague laws

Candidates have leeway when it comes to spending their campaign money.

Missouri statutes allow candidates to spend money on…

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