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Sinquefield takes fight over proposed campaign finance reform amendment to court

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The single largest contributor to Missouri elections is filing a lawsuit to stop a new amendment from going to the ballot during the next election cycle that would limit the ways individuals and groups donate money to political campaigns.

Rex Sinquefield
Rex Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield, a retired financer and millionaire, has donated more than $26 million to Missouri candidates, committees, and political causes since 2008 alone. Most recently, Sinquefield donated more than $2 million to an organization that is fighting Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of House Bill 253, a Republican-crafted tax cut bill.

The new amendment has been filed with Secretary of State Jason Kander’s office and has been approved by Attorney General Chris Koster. Both Democrats have submitted the initiative for circulation and should it receive the number of required signatures, it would be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people during the next regular election cycle.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life proposed the measure. Law requires the number of signatures reaches or exceeds 8 percent of total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. The measure will need more than 211,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot.

Sinquefield and Pelopidas lobbyist Travis Brown, who has lobbied for Sinquefield frequently in the past, are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed this week, which is challenging the initiative. According to court documents, Brown and Sinquefield claim the initiative doesn’t adequately measure the financial impact of the amendment, unfairly restricts free speech and freedom of association and contains unfair language that could manipulate voters.

Secretary of State Jason Kander
Secretary of State Jason Kander

“This ultimately is about freedom of expression and speech,” Brown told The Missouri Times. “An individual should have the right to express themselves by support or opposition to a candidate or committee.”

Kander’s office issued a brief written statement to The Missouri Times in which they said they were “confident” that the courts would uphold the “impartial” language of the ballot summary.

The lawsuit also challenges the fiscal note from the office of Auditor Tom Schweich. The lawsuit contends that the fiscal summary is “insufficient and unfair” because it does not attempt to calculate the cost of litigation in enforcing the law, or the loss of revenue to state and local governments from a decrease in campaign expenditures.

Schweich’s office issued a brief statement saying they were comfortable with their work and that the challenge is an “ordinary part” of the initiative petition process.

The suit also evokes a larger argument heard nationally in recent years, particularly in the Supreme Court, that the ability to donate money to political causes or candidates is a form of free expression that ought to be protected under the first amendment. The suit reads:

“The limitation inhibit the ability of individual contributors and organizational contributors to target their contributions to candidates in competitive or key races which involve candidate positions for which contributors have a particular interest or hold a strong viewpoint on, and, thereby, mute the voice of those wishing to engage in expressive speech.”

In 1994, Missourians overwhelmingly supported contribution limits to House, Senate and statewide office candidates. The limits were knocked down in court, but were soon followed by the Democratic-controlled legislature codifying their own contribution limits into law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the limits in 2000, but they were undone in 2008 when the GOP-controlled legislature and then-governor Matt Blunt, a Republican, repealed the limits.