There were approximately 119 initiative petitions filed for a potential spot on either the August primary or the November general ballot. Many of the petitions were repeat filings of the same or similar measures; at least 27 distinct initiatives could have been on the ballot, but for whatever reason were not certified. Perhaps that is a good thing.
To initiate a state statute, like Proposition A, petitioners had to file the necessary information with the Missouri Secretary of State by May 8, 2016. Supporters were required to present at least 98,618 signatures (or 5% of those who cast votes in the last gubernatorial election) from 6 of our state’s 8 congressional districts. To initiate a constitutional amendment, supporters are required to present 157,788 valid signatures (or 8% of those who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial race). These must also come from 6 of the 8 congressional districts.
With this information in mind, let’s focus on Constitutional Amendment 2, the Campaign Contribution Reform Initiative that seeks to place a limit on campaign contributions. Though ethics reform has been a top priority in Missouri in recent years, the General Assembly has not been able to set any limits on campaign finance. While the legislature has not been successful in this endeavor, the “Returning Government to the People” group just might be. The group collected the necessary signatures through the petition initiative process to have the proposed amendment placed on this year’s ballot, and the committee backing the ballot initiative received nearly $1.1 million, money coming entirely from Fred Sauer, the founder of Orion Investment Company of St. Louis.
Missouri currently has no limits on political giving, and some donors write checks in the five- and six-figure range to individual candidates. For example, in the latter part of 2014, mega-donor Rex Sinquefield gave millions to various candidates. Most political critics believe that candidates should have to work for their support from the people and not just depend on a few large donors for financial contributions. In light of that, the following proposed amendment will appear on the November ballot:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
- establish limits on campaign contributions by individuals or entities to political parties, political committees, or committees to elect candidates for state or judicial office:
- prohibit individuals and entities from intentionally concealing the source of such contributions;
- require corporations or labor organizations to meet certain requirements in order to make such contributions;
- provide a complaint process and penalties for any violations of this
amendment? It is estimated this proposal will increase state government costs by at least $118,000 annually and have an unknown change in costs for local governmental entities. Any potential impact to revenues for state and local governmental entities is unknown.
It is important to note that the initial contribution limit would not apply to money given to issue-oriented committees, such as those supporting or opposing a ballot measure, as does Fred Sauer.
Establishing limits for financial campaign contributions is nothing new. In November of 1994, 74% of Missouri voters approved a ballot measure that limited contributions to state candidates. However, those limits were struck down in court, yet higher limits were put in place that same year by the legislature. The new limits were periodically adjusted for inflation and remained in place for more than a decade. In 2006, lawmakers passed a bill repealing campaign contribution limits, but it was struck down on procedural grounds by the Missouri Supreme Court. Then, in 2008, the legislature repealed contribution limits altogether. At the time, a large number of supporters of the repeal noted that donors—such as Sinquefield-- were channeling smaller donations to candidates through various committees. Their argument was that it would be easier for the public to track who is supporting politicians if there were no contribution limits in place. Since then, numerous lawmakers have felt it was a mistake not to have some limitations on campaign contributions.
Constitutional Amendment 2, if passed, would cap donations to candidates at $2,600 per election, and to political parties at $25,000. The initiative also would impose other campaign finance restrictions aimed at preventing political committees from obscuring the source of their money.
This past summer a group filed a lawsuit to keep campaign finance reform off the November ballot. The suit was heard in Cole County Circuit Court, where the court ruled in favor of the defendant, thus keeping the measure on the ballot. It was then appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court who dismissed the case, thereby, again, leaving it on the ballot. This option leaves it open for a possible lawsuit that could challenge the constitutionality of the amendment, should it pass in November. Supporters of campaign contribution reform say closely modeled federal campaign regulations and other state provisions—similar to this initiative—have been upheld by the courts in the past.
Those in opposition to the issue maintain that campaign contribution limits violate the free speech right granted in both the Missouri and the U.S. Constitutions. Many Missourians believe there is a necessity for them, and there should be some type of limits placed on campaign contributions with proper disclosure of who wrote the check. As one lawmaker put it, “If somebody gives you a big check, the rule is that you dance with the one that brought you.” Consequently, the recipient is going to feel a certain benevolence toward the donor.
If Constitutional Amendment 2 passes, it is almost a surety that it will find its way to the courts. If it fails, we are back to where we started. Missouri voters will be required to make the call and decide this issue.