Just before Parson vetoed Missouri emissions bill, staffer’s spouse hired by testing company
Three weeks before Missouri Governor Mike Parson vetoed laws that undermined a federally mandated vehicle emissions test program, his political director's wife registered as a lobbyist for the lone state contractor who provided the tests.
Last month, Parson vetoed House Bill 661. The bill would have removed counties Jefferson, Franklin, and St. Charles from the program, which aims to bring the St. Louis area into compliance with state air quality standards. St. Louis and St. Louis Counties were not affected by the legislation.
Parson, along with many lawmakers, cited a threat from the Environmental Protection Agency to impose sanctions if Missouri should remove the districts from the program as justification. The law was also sharply rejected by environmental groups.
But the registration of Jay Hahn, a lobbyist married to Parson's political director Kayla Hahn, has raised questions about the procedure and whether the deal violates the state's conflict of interest laws.
"Unfortunately, even the appearance of corruption can spoil otherwise wise policies and diminish people's confidence that their government represents them," said Benjamin Singer, executive director of Show Me Integrity, a grassroots group that promotes ethical governance in a statement.
Neither Hahn nor the Worldwide Environmental Products company he represents have returned any messages or emails asking for comments on this story.
Kelli Jones, the governor's spokeswoman, was contacted by a reporter asking for questions to be e-mailed. She never replied to the questions or to a follow-up email.
On June 18, Jay Hahn registered as a lobbyist for the California-based company, which is running as the state's sole contractor to provide equipment and services for the vehicle inspection program. The state's contract portal shows that the company receives $ 1 million annually for this contract.
Kayla Hahn was included in notices from the state Department of Natural Resources related to HB 661 after Jay Hahn registered as a lobbyist for Worldwide Environmental Products, according to emails The Independent received through an open request. The records did not show that she emailed the bill after her husband registered as a lobbyist for the company. Before June 18, she sent emails clarifying whether any unrelated language in the bill had previously been vetoed.
On July 9, Parson vetoed the law.
"Exempting such non-compliant counties would violate Missouri federal clean air laws and lose significant funds on certain highway projects and grants in the St. Louis area of $ 52 million annually," Parson said in his veto letter to Missouri General Assembly.
Singer, who ran a state initiative campaign for ethics reform and redistribution known as Clean Missouri, said Missourians should "continue to expect politics as usual" until the state has stricter ethics laws.
"This is not a bad apple, it's a bad system," said Singer.
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 a civil servant or their families to obtain personal financial gain from their office. A guide compiled by the Missouri Ethics Commission states that the laws contain restrictions on "receiving additional compensation through employment, rendering services, or doing business with a political subdivision and influencing decisions that may result in financial gain."
This could include a lobbyist gaining access to state officials through his spouse's official position, said Kedric Payne, senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center.
"In a situation where someone could influence their spouse or their spouse's manager, it would appear to be a violation of this rule," Payne said.
It is not clear what direct contact Jay Hahn had with the governor's office regarding the bill. Payne said such conflicts - or appearances of conflict - are generally resolved by officials who state that they will not allow their spouse to stand up for them or their office.
Without clear evidence, Jay Hahn was given special access because of Kayla Hahn's position, he said it was difficult to show a direct violation of Missouri Ethics Law.
“This is a situation where the officer has to answer questions,” Payne said, “and from answering those questions, it can be determined whether or not things are being done correctly.
This story was produced by the Missouri Independent, a non-partisan, nonprofit news organization dealing with state government, politics, and politics.
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