By Ryan Johnson, Missouri Alliance for Freedom president
Constitutional Amendment 2 will allow voters to decide in November whether to amend the state constitution to restrict certain political contributions.
The amendment would limit contributions to statewide, legislative, and judicial offices to $2,600 per election. Contributions from a person or a committee to a political party would be capped at $25,000 per election.
“The reality of the world we live in is that money drives message through media. Money raised is tantamount to political speech because it directly correlates to the number of voters a candidate’s campaign or political party can speak to. By limiting campaign donations, the government will, effectually, be limiting the amount of speech citizens can engage in. It is wrong” noted Ryan Johnson, President of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom.
“Speech should not be limited, and neither should the amount of money you can invest in a candidate for public office so long as there is transparency.”
Amendment 2 would also prohibit campaign contributions from a corporation or labor organization, with exceptions. Certain corporations or labor organizations can still form continuing committees, or political action committees (PACs), to accept contributions.
Committee to committee transfers would be prohibited under Amendment 2. Committees would also be prohibited from knowingly accepting contributions from non-U.S. citizens, foreign governments, and foreign corporations.
The amendment also contains a section laying out penalties for violations, specifies the process for filing a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission, requires the secretary of state to adjust the campaign contribution limits periodically based on CPI, and includes a definitions section that mirrors many definitions already in state statute.
Missouri last had campaign contribution limits in 2008. The general assembly that year voted to remove the limits with the intent of creating greater transparency by allowing Missourians to see where the contributions were coming from, rather than encouraging a system where contributions were moved through committees in an attempt to avoid the limits.
The limits were repealed in 2008, when the legislature passed, and Governor Blunt signed, Senate Bill 1038. Contribution limits were also repealed by the legislature in 2006, but the repeal was struck down, and limits reinstated, by the Missouri Supreme Court in Trout v. State , 231 S.W.3d 140 (2007).
Prior to Trout, campaign contribution limits had been in place since 1994, when voters passed Proposition A by 73.9% to 26.1%.
Constitutional Amendment vs. Statutory Change
It should first be noted that a law created by constitutional amendment creates a bigger hurdle when later amending or repealing that law. Campaign contributions limits can, and often have been, proposed as changes to the state statutes. A statutory change only requires a simple majority in each chamber of the legislature and approval by the governor. On the other hand, amending the constitution to include campaign finance reform would require 1) a successful ballot initiative certification and a vote of the people, or 2) legislation passing both chambers of the legislature and a vote of the people.
Legal Challenges to Amendment 2
Amendment 2 has already faced several legal challenges. Although the challenges thus far have not been successful, there could be a different result if the amendment becomes law. Specifically, one of the challenges suggested the amendment allows some corporate campaign contributions, but prohibits those from others, such as state-chartered banks and electrical cooperatives. The Court of Appeals noted that the constitutional issues brought against the amendment “can only be resolved in a properly filed post-election lawsuit should the Proposed Measure be adopted.” See Missouri Electric Cooperatives,et al, v. Kander, WD80007 (2016).
First Amendment Implications
Any laws that propose to restrict our First Amendment right to free speech require careful consideration. While Missouri is one of only twelve states that do not limit individual contributions to statewide and legislative offices, we must be careful to balance the fight against perceived corruption with the protection of our constitutional rights.
The Center for Competitive Politics found no relationship between contribution limits and a state’s corruption rate. (“Campaign Contribution Limits: A Cap on Free Speech.” Center for Competitive Politics, 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.) Should the amendment prove not to resolve the stated intent of reducing “the potential for corruption and the appearance of corruption,” our state would be left with a constitution that unnecessarily restricts the freedom of speech.
“The irony of Amendment 2 is that it is being driven by one St. Louis millionaire, named Fred Sauer, who gave a little over $1.1 Million to a political action committee, of which he is treasurer, to hire a Georgia-based political consulting firm to gather signatures on an Initiative Petition in order to put A2 on the ballot” said Johnson.
“Mr. Sauer spent the majority of his $1 Million with the out-of-state consultant to gather signatures from Missourians under the auspices that money in politics is a bad thing. That he would spend over a million dollars on political activity to limit the amount you and I can give to the candidates smacks of hypocrisy.”
Missouri politics has seen its share of corruption and unethical behavior in recent years, and with voters deciding on Amendment 2, it is likely to pass by a wide margin, especially given the results of 1994’s Proposition A.
While there is no question that Jefferson City needs ethics reform, voters should be aware of all of the provisions in Amendment 2, as well as the practical effect of those provisions. Missouri Alliance for Freedom recommends a NO vote on Amendment 2.
Missouri Alliance for Freedom is an action focused conservative policy advocacy and legislative accountability group. MAF works primarily with the Missouri General Assembly and conservative grassroots. Its mission is advocacy and accountability. Its focus is limited government and individual freedom.