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Missouri Ethics Commission finally has a quorum — but still can’t meet or take action

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Missouri Ethics Commission finally has a quorum — but still can’t meet or take action

Jun 07, 2024 | 6:55 am ET
By Jason Hancock
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Missouri Ethics Commission finally has a quorum — but still can’t meet or take action
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Unlike other state boards, members of the ethics commission cannot continue to serve after their terms expire. Three commissioners’ terms expired March 15 (Getty Images).

Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday appointed a fourth person to serve on the six-member Missouri Ethics Commission, providing the board with a quorum for the first time since March. 

But because one member has been unable to attend meetings since last fall, the commission is still one person short of being able to hold a meeting or take action on any campaign finance complaints.

“We do have a quorum, but we don’t have four commissioners who can meet,” said Elizabeth Ziegler, director of the ethics commission.

Ziegler declined to comment any further on the situation, but meeting minutes of the commission show Republican Kathie Conway has not attended any public hearings since at least last October. 

Conway could not be reached for comment.  

The timing couldn’t be worse for the enforcement of Missouri’s campaign finance and ethics laws. 

As of Friday, it is only 60 days until the Aug. 6 statewide primary. Because of that, the commission is only granted 15 days to deal with any complaints that are filed before the primary against candidates. 

Without a quorum, the commission can’t meet and can’t hand down any decisions. 

And at the end of July, Ziegler’s term as director also expires. Without four members able to attend a meeting the commission can’t name a replacement. 

Unlike other state boards, members of the ethics commission cannot continue to serve after their terms expire. Three commissioners’ terms expired March 15. Directors are limited to one six-year term.

Legislation filed in both the House and Senate this year sought to do away with term limits for the commission’s director. The bill was approved by a Senate committee, but House Speaker Dean Plocher sat on his chamber’s version of bill and didn’t refer it to committee until the session’s final day. 

On Wednesday, Parson appointed Whitney Smith, of Des Peres. The commission is split between the two major parties and the two open seats would go to Democrats.

In April, Parson’s office told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it is struggling to find people willing to serve on the commission

As a result, since the beginning of April the commission has been unable to take action on 15 different complaints before the deadline for completion of an inquiry. 

“Because there were not four commissioners able to consider the investigation within the statutory timeframe,” a recent dismissal read, “the commission could take no action on these complaints.”

Julie Allen, a former executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said state campaign finance law has no teeth if the commission is hobbled by the lack of a quorum. 

“Enforcement of existing laws prevents Missouri from becoming the Wild West of campaign finance and ethics,” she said, “as it once was.”