Major Donor Sinquefield Files Suit Against Contribution-Limiting Amendment

Aug 13, 2013

Missouri's biggest political contributor is fighting against a constitutional amendment that would severely limit his power.

Libertarian multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield and one of his lobbyists, Travis Brown, filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jason Kander and Auditor Tom Schweich, arguing that a proposed ballot initiative violates their right to free speech.

The ballot measure is sponsored by the Missouri Roundtable for Life. It could go on the 2014 ballot if sufficient signatures are gathered from registered voters. It would cap donations at $2,600 for candidates for statewide office or the Legislature. Missouri repealed its limits on campaign contributions in 2008.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life filed the initiative in April, when the organization charged that, “Unlimited campaign contributions are corrupting politicians and creating the appearance of corruption in Jefferson City.”

Sinquefield and Brown's 21-page lawsuit covers a variety of qualms they have with the petition. Here are a few points we've picked out:

  • A Personal Interest

To state that they have a vested interest in opposing the passage of the petition (and thus have a reason to file a lawsuit), they write:

"​Plaintiff Sinquefield and Plaintiff Brown have previously made contributions in excess of $2,600 per election per candidate..."

This is, of course, a dramatic understatement. Sinquefield, a retired financial executive, has given more than $26 million since 2008.

Currently, Missouri is the only state to allow unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited lobbyist gifts.

  • What's The Cost?

Sinquefield and Brown question the estimate of cost to the state.

The state maintains this petition would cost $118,000 a year to enforce the provisions. Sinquefield and Brown disagree, and point out that it doesn't include the costs of legal challenges that they are likely to pursue.

They argue that "Annual state government revenue will decrease by $7.39 million per year."

  • The Hypothetical 14 Year Old Donor

​In one of the more odd arguments of the lawsuit, Sinquefield says it would discourage kids younger than 14 from participating in the election process. Sinquefield and his lawyers contend that because the petition would attribute contributions of kids to their parents, that it...

"...inhibits or chills the rights of individuals under fourteen years of age to participate in the election process."

  • The First Amendment

Sinquefield's main argument, though, is that it infringes on his First Amendment right to free speech. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Allen Rostron, a constitutional law professor with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, disagreed.

“The rule has basically been that it’s OK to limit contributions as long as the level of the limits is reasonable,” he said, later adding: “Now again, that’s existing law. There’s always the chance that the U.S. Supreme Court could change the law if it feels like doing so. And the court has obviously been moving in the direction of giving more free speech protection to political spending in recent years.”

You can read the entire lawsuit here, as well as the initiative petition here.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel