He obtained a legal opinion that backs up his interpretation of the law.
Attorney James C. Thomas III of Kansas City wrote: "The question of whether or not it is appropriate for a lobbyist to receive reimbursements from an elected official's campaign fund really depends on whether the reimbursement is for a 'personal expense' or for an expense related to campaigning or the official duties of the office."
Drawing that line is the "tricky issue," Thomas wrote in the opinion, which Jones' campaign provided to the newspaper.
For example, a resort weekend for a legislator and his family, where no official or campaign activities are conducted, "sure looks like a purely personal expense," he wrote. But a dinner with the local chamber of commerce could fall under the umbrella of a campaign event, according to Thomas.
Julie Allen, the Missouri Ethics Commission's executive director, said she could not judge specific situations. But speaking generally on what qualifies as a campaign expenditure, she said: "The law's fairly broad in that area."
Even so, Mike Reid, a former ethics compliance director who now lobbies for the lobbyists, recommends that lobbyists turn down reimbursement checks if they come from legislators' campaign accounts.
"I would return it," said Reid, who represents the Society of Governmental Consultants, as well as the Missouri School Boards Association and other clients.
"If you saw that it was really from the campaign account, you could be helping that person convert campaign funds to personal use," said Reid, who sent his advice in a letter to the consulting group's members this summer.
Jones countered that many officials use campaign funds to pay for social or athletic events.
Attorney General Chris Koster bills his campaign directly for tickets while Gov. Jay Nixon uses a "luxury box" at Mizzou Arena that has been paid for by the Missouri Democratic Party, Jones noted. Koster and Nixon are Democrats.
POLITICALLY STICKY ISSUE
The practice of reimbursing lobbyists with campaign money has been growing over the last few years since former Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, announced that he would decline or pay back any freebies.
Legislators say they don't want to end up like state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, who was defeated Nov. 6, in part because of a scathing campaign portraying him as being wined and dined by lobbyists.
Lembke's opponent, Democratic Rep. Scott Sifton of the Affton area, used the issue in ads. And a website funded largely by plaintiffs' attorneys attacked Lembke by asserting that he had taken "more gifts than any state senator -- $28,000."
Lembke said the information was taken out of context, because the $28,000 was spread over his 10 years in Jefferson City.
He said he didn't try to hide his lobbyist-paid meals, which he said were often the only chance for groups to get "face time" with him during a busy day of hearings. Unlike some legislators, he said he doesn't believe it's appropriate to use campaign funds to wipe out lobbyist expenses.
"When I go out and raise money for my campaign account, I believe that the people who are contributing to me have an idea what that might be used for, and that's to get me re-elected," not reimburse lobbyists, Lembke said.
Lembke and other legislators -- both Democrats and Republicans -- say their votes are not bought for the price of a burger or nice meal.
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