Judge blocks parts of new Missouri campaign donation limits

Posted at 8:46 PM, May 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-05 21:46:30-04

A U.S. district judge on Friday ruled to block a new Missouri ban on contributions between political action committees and other limits on political donations that voters approved in November.

Attorneys for the state had argued donations from PAC to PAC could lead to corruption and enable donors to skirt donation limits set out in the constitutional amendment approved by 70 percent of voters. But U.S. Western District of Missouri Senior Judge Ortrie Smith said he's not persuaded by that because political action committees are meant to be independent from candidates. He ruled the ban unconstitutional.

"This is a win for free speech," said attorney Eddie Greim, who represented the pro-right-to-work committee Missourians for Worker Freedom and others in challenging the new constitutional amendment.

Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves also represented plaintiffs in the case.

Loree Anne Paradise, a spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, said the office is "carefully reviewing" the decision. She did not say whether Hawley's office will appeal the ruling, which takes effect in 45 days.

A $2,600 donation limit per candidate per election -- the heart of the constitutional amendment -- is still in place.

As well as allowing money to shuffle between political action committees, Smith said companies and unions may donate to ballot initiatives.

Smith also ruled that "heavily regulated industries" -- such as state-chartered banks, insurance companies and rural electric cooperatives -- and some out-of-state companies registered to do business in Missouri are allowed to donate to political action committees.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represented Missouri Electric Cooperatives and Legends Bank, said he expects the state to appeal.

Greim also said the ruling "shows that there are many flaws" in the amendment. He said he wouldn't be surprised if it faces other court challenges.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, said on the Senate floor Friday he expected the measure would face court challenges and filed legislation that would have sent changes to voters. The proposal hasn't yet received a hearing and appears likely to languish before lawmakers' May 12 deadline to pass legislation.