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SCOTUS declines to take up case on Missouri’s campaign finance restrictions

The Supreme Court of the United States has declined a request to review a case regarding Missouri’s voter-approved campaign finance restrictions, ending two years of federal litigation.

The high court’s move gives certainty to what is restricted under Missouri campaign finance laws. As such, the Show-Me State will continue operating under the same limitations as during the 2018 election cycle — just with the lower contribution limits approved in November.  

“It means that in Missouri, and in the entire 8th circuit, it is now a certainty that the state cannot ban PAC-to-PAC,” said Kansas City attorney Eddie Greim, one of the lawyers involved in the case. “I think it reiterates that the corporate contribution ban to ballot measure committees is out … and the [Missouri Ethics Commission] cannot opine its way out of an unconstitutional statute.”

On Monday, SCOTUS denied a petition for writ of certiorari in Missouri Ethics Commission, et al. v. Free and Fair Election Fund, et al. — in other words, the court of appeals ruling stands as the final decision. The court’s decision ends more than two years of federal legal battles.

The law at the center of the controversy is a 2016 ballot measure, known then as Amendment 2 and now as Article VIII of the Missouri Constitution, which was a sweeping overhaul of campaign finance limitations. The proposal passed with 69.9 percent of Missourians voting in favoring.

The measure, originating through initiative petition, set caps on contributions to a variety of committees, prohibited corporations or labor unions from making direct contributions to campaigns, prohibited political candidates from donating directly to other candidates’ committee, barred committees from accepting contributions from someone who isn’t a U.S.  citizen, and a number of other limitations.

Several different groups challenged a number of provisions with the measure. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri struck down several provisions including a prohibition on PAC-to-PAC donations.

The state appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing without the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, a donor could evade the individual contribution limits.

The Missouri Ethics Commission “does not point to evidence of any occasions before the amendment where PAC-to-PAC transfers led to the circumvention of contribution limits. Nor does the Commission identify any donors who have exceeded contribution limits by using transfers among a network of coordinated PACs,” the appeals court determined.

The 8th Circuit sided with U.S. District Court Senior Judge Ortrie Smith, who “concluded that the prohibition unconstitutionally infringed on a political action committee’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.”

With the Supreme Court declining to review the case, that ruling stands.

“US Supreme Court has just denied Missouri’s application for cert in the PAC to PAC transfer case, putting an end to the federal litigation over amendment 2’s campaign finance restrictions (unless a new case is filed),” Jefferson City attorney Chuck Hatfield posted on Twitter.

Greim did note the main provisions in Amendment 2 — contribution limits and the ban on corporations giving to candidates — are still in place.