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Appeals Court Resurrects Initiative Petition Drive For Campaign Donation Limits

Several civic leaders from Kansas City have gone to court challenging a voter-approved state law that requires Kansas City and St. Louis to ask voters every five years to renew the city earning taxes.
(via Flickr/borman818 )
Several civic leaders from Kansas City have gone to court challenging a voter-approved state law that requires Kansas City and St. Louis to ask voters every five years to renew the city earning taxes.

The Western District Court of Appeals of Missouri has resurrected an initiative-petition effort to restore campaign donation limits in Missouri. But the proposal’s backers may not have enough time to collect the signatures needed to get their proposal before voters.

The lawyer for the appeals-court loser — wealthy donor Rex Sinquefield — noted that its side has 15 days to decide whether to appeal this week’s ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“We have some time,’’ said Sinquefield lawyer Marc Ellinger.

But the clock definitely is ticking for the Missouri Roundtable for Life, the group backing the campaign-donation initiative. By law, the group and its allies have until May 4 to turn in the necessary signatures from registered Missouri voters.

Because their proposal is a constitutional amendment, Roundtable for Life needs at least 157,788 registered Missouri voters from six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

In a statement, Roundtable for Life was happy about the appeals court’s action.  The courtreversed a lower court’s decision against the initiative’s fiscal note and fiscal note summary that the state auditor’s office had approved for the ballot.

The fiscal note tells voters how much the proposal might cost them or state and local governments. The appeals court said the note’s fiscal estimate – which said the financial impact was “unknown’’ – was adequate. The lower court had said it was not.

The roundtable’s ballot proposal, dubbed the “Missouri Campaign Contribution Reform Initiative,” proposes to:

  1. Limit donations by individuals to any candidate or elected official to $2,600 an election cycle;
  2. Limit donations by individuals to political parties to $25,000 an election cycle;
  3. Limit donations by political parties to other campaign committees to $25,000 an election cycle;
  4. Ban donations by corporations or unions directly to candidates or elected officials, while still allowing corporations and unions to set up their own PACs to support or oppose candidates;
  5. Prohibit PACs and other campaign committees from donating to each other in an effort to evade the campaign contribution limits.

The roundtable calls its plan “a fair and reasonable answer to the growing problem of wealthy elites, like Rex Sinquefield, using huge campaign contributions to unduly influence political candidates and parties.”
The group’s proposed limits are higher than the ones that had been in place in Missouri until the General Assembly and then-Gov. Matt Blunt eliminated the donation restrictions in 2008.

Without donation limits, the roundtable says, “Rex Sinquefield and other wealthy elites will have carte blanche to influence what the ‘people’s representatives’ do in Jefferson City. Wealthy elites will continue to pick their own candidates to run for office, and Missourians will not be able to determine the destiny of our state nor hold politicians accountable.”

Opponents of the limits say they unfairly restrict free speech and prompt donors and candidates to look for less transparent ways to give and collect large sums of campaign money.

Sinquefield has made a point of making contributions of at least $5,001 apiece so that the recipients must report them within 48 hours to the Missouri Ethics Commission, which oversees the state’s campaign-contribution laws to make sure that all parties comply with them.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.