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'Dark Money' Ban Clears St. Louis Aldermanic Committee

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

Non-profits who want to influence political races in the city of St. Louis may soon have to disclose their donors.

A bill that would force those organizations who put more than $500 into a contest for mayor, comptroller, Board of Aldermen president or a ballot issue sailed out of committee today with a 6-0 vote. Five of the 11 committee members were absent, and a quorum wasn't reached until just before the vote.

The measure closes, at least in the city, a loophole opened up by the US Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, the sponsor, says the state’s Ethics Commission has already said it can’t force disclosure of so-called "dark" money.

"My thought is, why not do what we can here in the city of St. Louis?" Krewson said. "You never know, we might get something started here."

The law would not stop someone from passing money through several non-profits before it ends up in the political stream, according to attorney Brad Ketcher, who helped draft the proposal. 

"But at the state level, there are rules against earmarking resources through front organizations," Ketcher said. "When you have a very aggressive activity like that, I think those would probably come into play and  offer some deterrence."

Ketcher also added that charter cities like St. Louis and Kansas City have had the authority to enact their own campaign finance rules for citywide races. For example, he says, Kansas City has contribution limits for its offices.

As of right now, the rules would apply only to citywide races in St. Louis, but Krewson says she's not opposed to expanding it to aldermen as well.

Missouri House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled an ethics bill that contains a similar disclosure provision, as well as the reinstatement of contribution limits.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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