On September 11, Ron Calzone was fined $1,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) for not registering as a lobbyist. There’s just one problem with that.
“I’m not a legislative lobbyist,” Calzone said in a phone interview. “I’m a cattle and horse rancher who owns a small manufacturing business as my vocation. My avocation is trying to defend the liberty of fellow Missourians and promote constitutional government and free market principles.”
Calzone said he does that a number of ways, one being his involvement in the think tank Missouri First.
“Missouri First as a think tank studies issues, bounces policy ideas off of one another, receives and accepts feedback from various sources and then tries to formulate good public policy that we can share with people who influence public policy,” he said. “Some of the people we try to educate who then influence public policy are average citizens. We try to also educate and inform legislators.”
That sounds a lot like what lobbyists do. What makes Calzone different than those who are already registered?
Calzone says it’s a matter of payment.
“Probably the single most significant difference is, what I do I do out of a sense of service to my fellow Missourians and a service to what I feel is truth or right, and not out of any personal interest or personal gain,” Calzone explained. “I’m not doing things that directly, materially benefit me any more than any other citizen.”
“I don’t fit the statutory definition of a legislative lobbyist. I’m a citizen activist.”
“What’s most important is I’m not doing it as part of a job for which I’m being paid by some client.”
Calzone doesn’t take a dime for what he does. In fact, Missouri First doesn’t even have a checking account.
“I don’t get paid one penny from anyone and I don’t pay anyone,” he said. “So I don’t buy gifts or lunches or cases of liquor for legislators or staff. These are some of the things that define a legislative lobbyist. The bottom line is that since I’m not doing it as part of a job or profession, I’m not being paid, I haven’t been designated by any organization, including Missouri First, and I’m not giving anything to anyone, I don’t fit the statutory definition of a legislative lobbyist. I’m a citizen activist.”
One of the possible reasons for his being targeted by the MEC is because he’s effective. He said he learned about the complaint against him when he received a letter shortly after the 2014 election. It was from the MEC, informing him of a complaint filed against him by a lawyer. The complaint listed several incidents the lawyer said were examples of Calzone doing what a lobbyist did.
Calzone later learned the lawyer wasn’t filing the complaint on behalf of himself, but for the Missouri Association of Governmental Consultants.
“I call them ‘The Lobbyist Guild,'” Calzone joked. “A large percentage, if not all, of the professional lobbyists belong to this ‘guild,’ although it’s tough to know that for certain because it’s not a very transparent organization.”
Calzone learned about “the guild’s” involvement from a cover letter that was revealed to him a couple months after the complaint was filed. It was confirmed by the secretary for the Association at a hearing.
Calzone said “the guild” was likely approached by Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate and encouraged to file the complaint.
“Even among legislators that I’ve rankled over the years, there haven’t been very many of them that said, ‘Ron, you shouldn’t be here.’ But there have been a few. Ryan Silvey is one,” he claimed. “He acts very disrespectful, you know. A senator in a hearing. He says things like he’s not going to give me much credence because I’m not a registered lobbyist because I refuse to register”
He said now Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard is another. Calzone recalled an interaction he had with Richard in a hearing.
“It was a hearing last spring, a little bit later in the session. It was on one of the Convention of States bills,” he said. “I introduced myself as you’re supposed to do, whether they know you or not, and he said, ‘Aren’t you the lobbyist who’s not a lobbyist?'”
“I said, ‘Well, I don’t fit the statutory definition of a lobbyist. I’m not required to register.’ And he said, in a very snide way, “Well, we’ll see about that,” Calzone said.
“And that was before we found out that he was one of at least two legislators that came to, in the words of the secretary of “The Lobbyist Guild,” came to them and asked if they had an interest in me being registered as a lobbyist.”
He continues to fight for his right to free political speech, but he gets asked one question over and over.
“You know, I’ve been asked ‘Why not just register and fill out the forms? It’s just a small formality.” he said. “It’s a matter of principle. I should not have to get a license from the state to exercise my core political speech.”
“That is probably the most fundamental problem I have with this whole thing.”
Photo Credit: Ron Calzone/facebook