Jun 11, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

COURT SAYS CAMPAIGN CAPS INITIATIVE CAN PROCEED

The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District on June 9 reversed a Cole County judge’s ruling preventing circulation of an initiative petition seeking to place a measure on the 2016 statewide ballot asking voters to reinstate campaign contributions limits. In a separate but related ruling, the appellate court permanently blocked an order by the same judge seeking to compel Secretary of State Jason Kander to submit to discovery requests concerning his personal beliefs about campaign finance reform.

The challenged initiative petition proposes a constitutional amendment that would impose a cap of $2,600 per election cycle on individual contributions to candidates for statewide office or the legislature, as well as establish other campaign finance reforms and restrictions. Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved campaign contribution limits in 1994, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly repealed them in 2008. Missouri has allowed unrestricted contributions ever since, with single donations routinely in the six figures and occasionally topping $1 million.

Ruling in a lawsuit filed on behalf of retired billionaire financier and prolific GOP donor Rex Sinquefield of St. Louis, Cole County Judge Dan Green, a Republican, blocked the petition from being circulated, holding that it would violate the First Amendment rights of campaign donors if ratified by Missouri voters.

The Western District reversed Green’s decision, noting the Missouri Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the validity of proposed legislation cannot be challenged until it has been enacted. As a result, the lawsuit won’t be ripe for consideration by the courts until and unless the petition makes the ballot and is approved by voters.

In the other case, the Western District said Green erred in ordering discovery concerning Kander’s opinions on campaign finance reform. As secretary of state, Kander’s office is responsible for writing the ballot language for initiative petitions. The lawsuit argued the Secretary of State’s Office is biased on the issue because Kander in the past has been supportive of reinstating campaign contribution limits.

The appellate court said bias is determined by comparing the ballot language to the content of the proposed initiative to see if the former accurately reflects the latter. As such, the secretary of state’s personal opinions are irrelevant.

The petition hasn’t yet been circulated pending resolution of the litigation. Supporters have until May 2016 to submit petitions containing roughly 160,000 valid signatures from registered voters in order for the measure to go on the November 2016 ballot.

 

NIXON SIGNS CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BILLS INTO LAW

Gov. Jay Nixon on June 5 signed into law three bills that provide spending authority for various capital improvement projects during the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Signing the measures during the Veterans of Foreign Wars state convention at Springfield, Nixon highlighted $33 million in spending authority earmarked for improvements at Missouri’s seven state veterans’ homes and three of its veterans’ cemeteries.

The bills – HB 17, HB 18 and HB 19 – also include $40 million for long-overdue structural repairs to the century-old state Capitol. Lawmakers also appropriated $35 million to turn the Missouri Department of Transportation’s existing headquarters building adjacent to the Capitol into an annex for legislative staff and provide a new building for MoDOT. In addition, the bills provide more than $160 million for maintenance and repair projects at public colleges and universities.