Three weeks before the Missouri Governor Mike Parson vetoed the legislation who allegedly undermined a federally mandated vehicle emissions testing program, the wife of his policy director registered as a lobbyist for the only contractor in the state providing these tests.
Last month Parson vetoed House Bill 661. The bill would have removed Jefferson, Franklin and St. Charles counties from the program, which aims to bring the St. Louis area into compliance with federal air quality standards. St. Louis and the County of St. Louis were not covered by the legislation.
Parson, along with many lawmakers, cited as justification a threat from the Environmental Protection Agency to impose penalties if Missouri removed counties from the program. The legislation has also been fiercely opposed by environmental groups.
But the recording of Jay Hahn, a lobbyist married to Parson’s policy director Kayla Hahn, raised questions about the process and whether the arrangement violated state conflict of interest laws.
âUnfortunately, even the appearance of corruption can taint what might otherwise have been smart policy and can diminish citizens’ confidence in their government to represent them,â Benjamin Singer, executive director of Show Me Integrity, said in a statement.
Neither Hahn nor the company he represents, Worldwide Environmental Products, returned any messages or emails seeking comment on this story.
Contacted by a reporter, Kelli Jones, spokesperson for the governor, requested that the questions be submitted by email. She never responded to questions or an additional follow-up email.
“By exempting such non-compliant counties, Missouri would violate federal air quality law and lose significant funding for certain highway projects and grants in the St. Louis area in the amount of $ 52 million per year. an, “said Parson in his veto letter at the Missouri General Assembly.
Singer, who has led a statewide voting initiative campaign on ethics reform and redistribution known as Clean Missouri, said Missourians “should continue to expect politics as usual “until the state has stricter ethical laws.
âIt’s not a bad apple, it’s a bad system,â Singer said.
He advocated that anyone who has a family member with paid lobbying clients should be excluded from public service.
In Missouri, it is illegal for public officials or their families to receive personal financial gain because of their office. A guide compiled by the Missouri Ethics Commission states that the laws include restrictions on “receiving additional compensation through employment, providing services, or conducting business with a political subdivision, and influence over decisions which may result in financial gain “.
This could include a lobbyist with access to state officials through their spouse’s official position, said Kedric Payne, senior ethics director for the Campaign Legal Center.
âIn a situation where someone could potentially put pressure on their spouse or their spouse’s boss, it would give the appearance of a violation of this rule,â Payne said.
But it’s unclear what direct contact Jay Hahn had with the governor’s office over the bill. Payne said such conflicts – or appearances of conflict – are usually resolved by officials saying they don’t allow their spouse to put pressure on them or their desk.
Without clear evidence, Jay Hahn was granted special access because of Kayla Hahn’s position, he said, it is difficult to demonstrate a direct violation of Missouri ethics law.
âThis is a situation where the official has to answer questions,â Payne said, âand it can be determined from the answer to those questions whether things are being done correctly or not.