JEFFERSON CITY • The departure of Gov. Eric Greitens’ deputy chief of staff last week could put the governor’s first executive order on ethics to the test.
Within hours of taking office in January, Greitens issued an order barring former employees from lobbying his office.
The idea was to show voters that the Republican newcomer would run an ethically clean and transparent operation in which employees weren’t allowed to cash in on their experience in the government sector by becoming lobbyists.
“No Office of the Governor employee shall, after the termination of his or her employment, act as an executive lobbyist during the Greitens administration,” the order directed.
Flash forward to last week, when former state Rep. Caleb Jones left his post as a top aide to Greitens for a job at the Association of Missouri Electrical Cooperatives, which has a robust lobbying presence in the Capitol.
In a news release announcing the hiring, the association made it clear that Jones’ experience in the Capitol would play a key role in his new position.
“Whenever our voice needed to be heard, we always went to Caleb, because he understood the issues and never forgot his own rural roots,” said Barry Hart, executive vice president of the association.
Jones also said he planned to use his work for Greitens and in the Legislature to help the cooperatives.
“I look forward to using my skills for the benefit of electric cooperative members statewide,” Jones said in the news release.
As a state representative, Jones helped the electric cooperatives by supporting legislation that made it easier to increase reliability by clearing right of way and by opposing a tax increase that would have increased the cost of electricity for electric co-op members.
In his role on the governor’s staff, Jones coordinated efforts to secure funding from the Federal Communications Commission to help Missouri electric cooperatives bring high-speed internet service to parts of rural Missouri.
The frequency of lawmakers leaving for higher salaries in the lobbying ranks triggered a law last year that requires a six-month waiting period after the end of their term before a member of the House or Senate can begin lobbying.
That means Jones, by law, cannot legally register to lobby until July 2019.
In his executive order, Greitens sought to close the revolving door between the government and lobbying even tighter.
Greitens order says “employees of the executive branch must avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest that might call into question whether work is for the public good or for personal gain, and thereby undermine public trust in government.”
Along with Hart, the association has eight lobbyists registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Hart did not respond to a request for comment.
If he registers when he becomes legally eligible, Jones could check a box form noting that he will lobby only the Legislature and not the governor’s office.
That loophole would prohibit him from lobbying the governor and his staff, but not from being in the Capitol to try and persuade lawmakers to support or oppose legislation.
Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden said all employees of the Office of the Governor agree to the ban upon their employment with the office, but he did not explain what kind of penalty might be at stake.
“If any former employee registers as an executive branch lobbyist, he or she would be identified as being in violation of the Executive Order to which he or she agreed upon employment,” Briden said.