Efforts launched to restrict campaign contributions

By State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon joined a bipartisan group of three western Missouri legislators last week to renew his call to restore the voter-approved limits on how much any one person or organization can contribute to a political campaign.

Nixon called for an end to “the corrosive flood of unlimited campaign money to candidates” in a Kansas City speech where he was joined by a Republican senator and two Democratic House members.

“Openness and accountability are bedrock principles of our democracy, so I am encouraged at the growing bipartisan consensus on the need to make ethics reform a top priority of the upcoming legislative session,” Nixon said.

Nixon’s call came two days after the secretary of state announced approval of another initiative petition campaign to put the issue on the statewide ballot. Three proposals have been approved for circulation, two from the same person.

In January, Nixon had warned legislators he would support an initiative petition campaign if the Legislature did not take action.

Several measures already have been prefiled in the Missouri Senate for the 2014 legislative session.

Besides restricting how much any one person or organization could contribute to a campaign, some of the proposals would restrict how much legislators and their immediate families could accept from lobbyists.

Some of the proposals also would prohibit a legislator from serving as a lobbyist during the first two years after leaving office. Another provision would prohibit statewide elected officials and legislators working as campaign consultants for other government officials.

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved campaign contribution limits in 1994.

Supporters of the legislative action to repeal limits argued that wealthy special interests had found ways to get around the limits by forming and funding large numbers of separate political committees that then contributed the money to candidates. Instead of contribution limits, legislative critics of contribution limits pushed through stronger disclosure requirements and restrictions on fund transfers between political committees.

In addition, critics of contribution limits argue that the growth of what are known as “super” political action committees, or PACs, have made it nearly impossible to control the growth of special-interest money in campaigns. Under First Amendment free speech rights, a super PAC can spend as much as it wants for or against a candidate so long as the organization remains independent of the candidate.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports Missouri is one of four states with no limits on contributions.

Missouri is the only state with the combination of no limits on campaign contributions, no limits on lobbyist gifts and no restrictions on a legislator becoming a lobbyist immediately after leaving office.