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Missouri Defends Campaign Donation Limits

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 11, 2018 1:10 PM

Missouri's campaign finance reform law protects against political corruption, an attorney argued to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Without the voter-approved restrictions on campaign contributions, the deputy attorney general said, political action committees and other entities could circumvent the law. Section 23 of the Missouri Constitution limits contributions to $2,600 per donor.

What's more, Ryan Bangert said, 70 percent of the voters can't be wrong. Unfortunately for them, a trial judge said something different.

The $2,600 Limit Stays

Last May, Judge Ortrie Smith ruled the contribution limit can stay, but the rest of the regulations must go. That includes the ban on contributions by PACs, foreign businesses, and "heavily regulated businesses."

So Missouri and the voters ask, what's the point? Unless the other restrictions are in place, they say, political corruption is sure to follow.

"The fact that 70 percent of the voters approved this shows concern that this might happen," Bangert told the appeals panel.

Chuck Hatfield, representing one of the plaintiffs, said the monetary limit is protection enough. He said the rest of the law goes too far.

"The First Amendment does not allow the state to require suspenders when a belt will do," Hatfield told the judicial panel.

On Again, Off Again

The case represents an on-again, off-again hate affair between voters and politicians in Missouri. Even the state nickname, "The Show Me State," got its roots in the political tension.

Ten years ago, there were no limits on campaign contributions there. That led mega-donors to pour millions into the electoral process.

Voters capped contributions by constitutional amendment in 2016, but according to reports, the door is opening again through the courts and the legislature.

"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," the St. Lous Post-Dispatch said.

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