****Jim ****Bushart **couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
There he was last month crammed into the tiny third-floor office of state Rep. **Curt Dougherty **in the Missouri Capitol with eight other home inspectors.
Their aim: to fight legislation that they felt would undermine their independence as objective evaluators.
But Dougherty, an Independence Democrat in his final term, thought some education was in order. In short order, he laid out the facts of life under the dome.
As Bushart remembers it, Dougherty said: “You might as well put a ‘for sale’ sign in front of this Capitol building.”
Dougherty said that advocates for the bill were powerful and would “spend lots of money here,” and were planning to take the entire General Assembly out for dinner the following week.
Dougherty wasn’t done. According to Bushart, the lawmaker advised the group to hire a lobbyist who “gets things done for you.”
As some of the home inspectors exchanged glances, Dougherty concluded with a wallop.
“It is not about being right or wrong,” Bushart remembers Dougherty saying. “It is all about money. I hate to put it this way, but it’s the truth.”
Asked about all this, Dougherty admitted that he can be blunt at times, but said his comments were taken out of context. He said he was trying to be honest by underscoring the importance of hiring a lobbyist.
“Anybody who doesn’t understand that you need to have a hired gun who keeps their issues in front of legislators has their head in the sand,” Dougherty said.
Bushart, of Cassville, Mo., insisted that he got the conversation right. His account was backed by **Steve Wessler **of Lake of the Ozarks, and **Patrick Carter **of Kansas City, who said they were in the office with Bushart.
A fourth home inspector, **James Braun **of Jefferson City, at first confirmed the remarks, and then demurred, saying he wouldn’t go there.
Bushart said Dougherty didn’t hesitate as he laid down the way of the dome, acting as if he’d said the same thing many times before.
“I guess I had been pretty naive,” Bushart said. “I was shocked.”
Carter admitted he also was “kind of taken aback” by Dougherty’s words, but said he appreciated the straight talk.
“We all know that money runs politics,” Carter said. “He was just being truthful. If anything, I respected him more for telling us.”
The measure in question, H.B. 1714, would regulate home inspectors. The inspectors fear that a new licensing board the bill sets up might cause them to pull their punches to stave off complaints from real-estate agents.
The particulars of the bill are almost beside the point. What matters is the reality check that an elected member of the House blurted out in front of a group of citizens he hardly knew.
In essence, Dougherty was saying the Missouri House doesn’t represent the little guy or the consumer. What it does represent are those interests willing to pony up for a lobbyist, or make strategically placed campaign donations.
Dougherty’s comments are astonishing in another way: That he would talk so openly about the “for sale” aspect of the House at a time when it is so widely known that the FBI is sniffing around the Capitol in its ongoing “pay for play” probe is mind-blowing.
It speaks volumes about the culture inside the Capitol.
One of the inspectors present that day, **Steve Wessler, **called Dougherty’s admonitions deeply disappointing.
“I’m not naïve,” Wessler said. “I’m 56 years old. That is the way it is. I’m not blind to that fact. You can argue ‘till the cows come in, but money does talk.”
Yes, it does.
Dougherty understands that. Last year, he issued a fund-raising invitation which said: “Just remember you don’t gotta’ like me to donate, you just gotta’ deal with me.”
FBI investigation or not, that seems to be the way things still work in Jeff City. The most important element of any dealing in the state Capitol is writing a check.
Bushart said unfortunately Dougherty wasn’t the only lawmaker who delivered that message to his small band of inspectors.
Said Bushart, “When a representative can say these things to a roomful of nine people,” then state government “is owned by someone.”
Yes, it is.