Co-ops ask for restraining order in campaign finance lawsuit

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Amendment 2 was easily passed in the November election, but the battle over the campaign finance amendment is far from over.

Voters approved a cap on direct contributions to candidates at $2,600 per election and limiting donations to $25,000 for political parties. That led to a federal lawsuit being filed against the amendment earlier this month in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, prior to the law taking effect on Dec. 8.

And in the latest move, the Missouri Electric Cooperatives and Legends Bank have asked the court to enter a temporary restraining order against enforcement of certain aspects of Missouri’s new campaign finance law.

The plaintiffs in the suit argue that the limitations of the provisions violate their First and 14th Amendment rights, as well as the Equal Protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions. They argue that contributions are protected under the Amendments as political speech.

“What we are against is one provision in Amendment 2 that would prevent our 47 member-owned, nonprofit rural electric cooperatives from contributing to our political action committee while at the same time allowing other companies and special interest groups that may have anti-co- op agendas to continue to make contributions to their PACs,” Barry Hart, CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, said in a release in early December. “That’s unfair and that’s why we and others believe it’s unconstitutional.”

The plaintiffs say that, under the new law, both AMEC and Legends Bank are barred from making contributions to their political action committees (PACs) or from receiving the funds in their PACs. The issue here is that, according to Klindt, members of AMEC contribute 90 percent of the PAC’s funding. The PAC relies on those funds to work for or against bills that affect their interests in Missouri.

David Klindt is the vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (AMEC) says the new law is problematic. In a signed affidavit to the court, Klindt states that “in order to lobby effectively against legislation that is potentially damaging to AMEC’s members, AMEC-PAC needs to be able to accept contributions from AMEC’s members”.

The plaintiffs say the new law not only bans their political speech, it also subjects them to criminal penalties. They say the ability to make and receive contributions falls under their rights of free speech and petitioning the government, and the new law infringes upon those unalienable rights.

Another issue they have with the new law is the prohibition of transfers from one PAC to another. The plaintiffs argue that the state’s interest in campaign finance laws is to reduce quid pro quo corruption, when candidates and officials receive large contributions from others seeking to influence them. They say that there’s no such interest in PAC to PAC contributions, since a PAC cannot be corrupted, and have no decision-making authority to corrupt.

The plaintiffs hope that, in seeking a preliminary injunction, people will notice that there would be no injuries inflicted on the state, only a protection for the co-ops and the bank.