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Campaign contribution law bans corporation donations to all candidates

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The new implementation of Missouri’s campaign contribution law could potentially present problems for candidates at local levels.

The new law passed during the November election by a large margin of Missouri voters places limits and rules on how candidates and committees can accept donations, including how much can be donated.

Perhaps the most significant change is the rules that apply to corporations seeking to donate to a candidate’s campaign.

As the Missouri Ethics Commission explained in an advisory opinion issued on Feb. 10, the new law prohibits a corporation or labor organization from making direct contributions to a campaign committee, candidate committee, exploratory committee, or political party. That means that no corporation may contribute to a candidate’s campaign at the statewide level.

But with the race for St. Louis mayor and a number of local and municipal elections weeks away, it begs the question: do these rules apply to municipal elections?

“The new law does treat local candidates differently since the $2,600 donation limit is not applied to them,“ James Klahr, the Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission said. But Klahr also said that other provisions, namely the banning of corporate donations to a candidate’s campaign, still apply.

Klahr says that while some of the applications of Amendment 2 are still open to interpretation, that particular issue is not.

“The statute is pretty clear on that,” he said.

In essence, this would mean that any candidate that has accepted money from a corporation would be required to return it. In the St. Louis mayoral race, that could mean the return over several thousands of dollars between the candidates.

Klahr says that going forward, more questions will be answered in regards to Amendment 2, through advisory opinions or complaints filed.

Klahr also noted that there had been some questions about how the law applied to LLCs, and referenced the issued opinion advisory, which states that “a Missouri LLC is an eligible entity and elects to be classified as a corporation under the federal tax code” and “is considered a corporation for purposes of Section 23 of the Missouri Constitution.” However, if the LLCs are filed as partnerships, not corporations, they would likely not be affected by the law.

The MEC has said that no penalties will be applied to any donations involving an LLC up to February 10, basically giving a pass due to the questions that were unanswered until the issuing of the advisory opinions.

While again, Klahr says some of the interpretation of the law remains open, due to its short lifespan, he says that there are provisions for punishments for those who break the law.

Klahr says that “anyone who knowingly gives or accepts a donation” between a corporation and a candidate would be subject to civil penalties, equal to twice the amount of the donation. That’s the lowest penalty – the highest punishment would be five times the donation amount. Violators could also be charged with a class A misdemeanor.

But, there still remains a way for corporations to donate to candidates: start a PAC.