New Campaign Finance Rules Ignore Missouri Voters' Decision

by | May 24, 2017

By Kurt Erickson

Two weeks after a federal judge blew a major hole in Missouri's new campaign finance law, another decision has been handed down that further chips away at limits on contributions even though Missouri voters approved limits last November.

In an opinion issued by the Missouri Ethics Commission, campaign committees formed by party leaders in the House and Senate are no longer limited to contributions totaling $25,000 annually.

Rather, the opinion penned by MEC Executive Director James Klahr says those committees can once again receive unlimited contributions.

Under a November change to the state constitution, Missouri voters overwhelmingly capped contributions to individual candidates for office at $2,600 per election. Contributions to a political party were capped at $25,000.

Since 2008, there have been no limits on contributions, leading to six- and seven-figure contributions becoming commonplace in some races. Mega-donors such as roofing company owner David Humphreys of Joplin, Mo., and retired St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield have poured millions into the electoral process.

And now, with no limits again on party leaders in the Legislature, those big money contributions could again begin flowing into Missouri politics, making legislative leaders even more powerful in the political process.

Jefferson City election law attorney Chuck Hatfield said the MEC was simply reading the law as it was written.

"The drafters of this constitutional amendment did not limit contributions to or from these legislative committees. As a result, there is a huge opportunity -- some would call it a loophole -- to move unlimited amounts of money through these committees to candidates," Hatfield said.

In his decision, Klahr said the new law was not written tightly enough to extend limits to the party leaders.

The MEC opinion, filed May 18, came after U.S. District Court Senior Judge Ortrie Smith issued a decision earlier this month that said much of the new law didn't meet constitutional muster when it came to limiting certain kinds of organizations from contributing to political candidates and causes.

The ruling did leave intact the $2,600 individual contribution limits, but it ends a ban on giving by groups such as the Association of Missouri Electrical Cooperatives and Legends Bank.

The two entities argued that the new law unfairly stopped them from donating to campaigns and political action committees.

Attorneys argued that if the law stayed in place, the electrical cooperatives would be unable to raise adequate money to ensure members' voices were heard by the Legislature and in upcoming elections.

In his decision, Smith said the Missouri Ethics Commission, which regulates campaign finance and lobbying activities, could not enforce the new law regarding giving by certain groups.

The change also attempted to ban the current practice of funneling money through different committees to hide the source of the contributions. It prohibits contributions by foreign interests and companies not legally authorized to conduct business in Missouri.

Smith said the latter provisions were unconstitutional and the ethics panel could not enforce that part of the law.

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