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Cold shower time: Missouri may require disclosure of sexual relations as ‘gifts’

The state of Missouri may soon require a unique application of its ethics laws. A state lawmaker recently proposed a bill seeking to require lobbyists to disclose any “sexual relations” they may have with lawmakers (or their staffers).

The bill seeks to achieve this through an expansion of the definition of “gifts” under the current state ethics laws. 

Representative Bart Korman proposed the bill as part of the Missouri legislature’s push for ethical reform after a series of high profile sex scandals rocked the state in 2015. He said he intended the bill to discourage sexual relations between lobbyists and government officials.

“I hope it deters any of that activity,” Korman said, “but that if activity does occur, it’s at least transparent.”

Missouri’s current ethics law mandates disclosure of expenditures made on behalf of public or elected local officials that fall into certain categories, including “gifts.” It also requires monthly disclosures by registered lobbyists, which are made publicly available. This new provision differs from the other categories of “gifts” because it does not require a “dollar valuation” for reporting.

We firmly believe in the importance of a rigorous ethics regime (see here, here, here and here), but several aspects of this proposal are concerning.

First, the bill gives no guidance as to what sexual “acts” or “relations” require disclosure. We can only imagine the rigorous analysis that may be required in order to determine what exactly must be disclosed. Rep. Korman’s guidance on this point has been as clear as mud: the law would presumably cover “general sexual relations” in order to avoid the many “shades of grey” involved in “sexual relations.” Got it. 

Second, requiring a disclosure of this nature is, ahem, rather invasive. The bill requires private citizens to publicly disclose personal information about their sexual history. This violation of personal privacy raises obvious and significant legal concerns.

In addition to questions of privacy, the disclosure requirements create a potential for manipulation and extortion. Lobbyists could threaten lawmakers with disclosing real or fake relations unless the lawmaker acts pursuant to the lobbyist’s wishes. The bill does not provide a way to confirm the veracity of the disclosure, besides the lobbyist’s word. The potential for abuse is staggering.

While even the author of the bill recognizes that it stands little chance of being passed, its introduction reminds us that very real concerns exist regarding improper influence in government. We applaud legitimate attempts to strengthen state ethics laws, particularly at a time when most state regimes are notoriously lax.

In this case, however, Missouri needs to go back to the drawing board.

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Jessica Tillipman is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Assistant Dean at The George Washington Univeristy Law School. You can follow her on Twitter at @jtillipman.

Whitney Suflas is a 2L at The George Washington University Law School. 

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1 Comment

  1. OK, here’s a question. If a legislator’s spouse withholds relations because of differences on a policy issue, could that trigger legal consequences? Would this mean that politicians, in order to avoid even the appearance of taint, would be advised to remain celibate while in office? Would legislative ethics committees be charged with checking on compliance on this issue? The potential issues (and poor jokes) are endless. Maybe this proposal does call for a little bit more thought. Cheers, Joe


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