The long-simmering fight over campaign contribution limits is heating up once again. The latest chapter: a Kansas City court is to hear oral arguments Wednesday in the case between Missouri Roundtable for Life, which supports contribution limits, and libertarian interests, headed up by Rex Sinquefield.
Back in April, the anti-abortion group Missouri Roundtable for Life announced that it would work to place limits on campaign contributions to candidates for state and judicial offices on the ballot in November 2014.
"Unlimited campaign contributions are corrupting politicians and creating the appearance of corruption in Jefferson City," the organization's president, Fred Sauer, said in a statement announcing the effort. "We need to restore political campaign contribution limits so that politicians represent Missouri citizens and not special interest groups."
The group wants to limit individual contributions to $2,600 for individuals and $25,000 for political parties per election cycle. Committees could not transfer money to other committees.
Meanwhile, Rex Sinquefield - a prolific donor to a variety of libertarian political causes - didn't like that idea. So he sued on a variety of grounds. He challenged the constitutionality of campaign finance limits, as well as more technical challenges to the economic impact report prepared by state auditor Tom Schweich and the summary of the ballot measure prepared by Secretary of State Jason Kander. The court allowed the Missouri Roundtable for Life to participate in the lawsuit.
Judge Jon Beetem's ruling in November was a mixed bag for Sinquefield. The Cole County circuit judge said the constitutional challenges could not be brought before the law went into effect. And he ruled that Kander's summary was fair. Sinquefield did not appeal those decisions.
But Beetum agreed with Sinquefield that the fiscal note and the summary of that note were unfair because:
- The auditor took into account bad information from the Department of Revenue.
- The auditor ignored data from Marc Ellinger, an attorney for Sinquefield, who argued that a cap on campaign contributions would reduce campaign spending in the state, thus reducing the tax revenue to state and local governments.
Schweich's office chose to change the fiscal note and summary rather than appeal Beetem's ruling. The Missouri Roundtable for Life chose to appeal. Oral arguments are Wednesday in Kansas City.
What's the upshot of all of this? It's basically a delay tactic. The longer Missouri Roundtable has to spend in court fighting over language, the less time it has to gather signatures. Every time there's a change to that language, Kander has to re-certify the petition. Only then can signature collection begin - signatures gathered on the wrong petition don't count toward the total. It'll take more than 217,000 valid signatures from six of the state's eight congressional districts to get the measure on the ballot in November.
I asked Molly McCann, the executive director of the Missouri Roundtable for Life, what impact the ongoing court fight would have on the Roundtable's ability to meet the May 4 deadline. She replied in an email:
"We think this will be a popular issue with Missouri citizens and we expect the response to be positive and enthusiastic. When special interests can contribute $100,000 or more to candidates, politicians may be tempted to represent these special interests and not the people who elected them. We want honest representation in our state, and we think Missourian will want to weigh in on such an important issue."
- Read Missouri Roundtable for Life's appeals brief here.
- Read Rex Sinquefield's brief here.
- Read the Roundtable's reply brief here.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann