Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, discussed state Auditor Susan Montee's audit of a lobbyist-infused fund used for social functions and gifts. He also discussed next year's legislative session, a period of time that will most likely be defined by a budget battle.
State Auditor Susan Montee released audits today of the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate. And in a press conference held this afternoon, the first-term Democrat detailed how the House and Senate had set up accounts for lobbyist donations that were used for social functions and gifts for lawmakers.
Lobbyists are allowed to purchase meals, entertainment and travel in Missouri, as long as the freebies are reported. But Montee's audits reported that both chambers nabbed tens of thousands of dollars for food, drinks and parties. Many of the expenses, she said, were not properly reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Here's a video of Montee discussing the Senate audit. I'll post more video tomorrow:
Here's another video of Montee answering questions from the media:
For one thing, the Wildwood Republican's announcement could be seen as a byproduct of term limits. There haven't been many examples of established lawmakers taking on incumbent down-ballot statewide officials. Now that state officials have a finite amount of time in a particular chamber, runs for statewide office seem like a more salient possibility.
It could be argued that the race to replace Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, had an effect on Icet's decision making. While Icet resides in the term-limited senator's district, that race already has a glut of potential candidates. There's even another Republican from Wildwood - former state Rep. Jack Jackson - running in that contest. And with Republicans rallying behind Bill Corrigan's bid for St. Louis County executive, Icet had to look elsewhere.
If Icet is the GOP candidate, he has a few things going for him:
- Money: Icet has already proven to be a prolific fundraiser. Some of that is most likely a result of him being budget chair. But he also raised a good chunk of cash running for the Speaker of the House, an election that was won by Ron Richard. Nevertheless, raising cash is critical when pursuing a statewide contest. Having experience in that field can be helpful.
- He's been grilled: The chairman of the House Budget Committee is required to be adept at dealing with a multitude of complicated - and controversial - issues.That could help if his feet are put to the fire during next year's campaign cycle. The last Republican nominee for auditor seemed to have some problems responding to criticism.
- He can highlight popular budgetary decisions: Icet can point to a multitude of popular initiatives he supported as budget chairman. Many - such as funding for St. Louis' METRO system - could play well in the vote-rich St. Louis area.
But there are some potential pitfalls for Icet's candidacy:
- Democrats can highlight unpopular budgetary decisions: One of the downsides about being a budget chair is saying no to potentially popular endeavors. Icet, for instance, was front-in-center in opposing Gov. Jay Nixon's plan to expand Medicaid using bolstered reimbursements for hospitals. There are smaller budgetary decisions that could be pointed out by opponents.
- Down-ballot incumbents rarely lose re-election: Icet won't only be running against incumbent state Auditor Susan Montee. He'll be running against the precedent. It's been decades since a down-ballot incumbent lost re-election. Even candidates who raised a lot of money and went on television - like then-state Rep. Sam Page - couldn't break the streak.
- Icet might not be alone: Last week, KY3 political reporter Dave Catanese reported that Washington University law professor Thomas Schweich was thinking about getting into the race for auditor. Schwiech also resides in St. Louis County and could potentially raise plenty of money for his statewide bid. It wouldn't surprise me if some enterprising politician from the western side of the state decided to get into the race. It wouldn't be the first time that happened.
In any case, the auditor's contest will probably take a backseat to the U.S. Senate race. That's what happened in 2002 and 2006. But there is certainly plenty of early intrigue.