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Supreme Court upholds campaign contributions

January 24, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The unending waterfall of money that Missouri political candidates were allowed to drink from just ran dry.

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court upheld a previous 1976 ruling which stated the government is allowed to place monetary limits on how much any one person can contribute to a campaign to prevent corruption or the perception of corruption.

The Supreme Court heard the Missouri case of a political action committee that sued Missouri's Attorney General, Jay Nixon. The PAC said the money restrictions violated their free speech.

"This is a big win for the state of Missouri and a landmark decision that turns the tide nationally for campaign reform efforts," Nixon said in a press release.

Because the case had been tied up in the courts, the law was unclear and Missouri candidates had been accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual contributors.

The Missouri governor's race had been one office where a substantial amount of money had been raised so far. State treasurer Bob Holden has collected approximately $3.9 million while U.S. Congressman Jim Talent has raised close to $3.3 million.

"We applaud the Court's decision because it is the will of Missouri voters," said Richard Martin, campaign manager of Holden for Governor.

In 1994, a referendum of 74 percent of Missouri voters supported imposing campaign limits, Nixon said.

The Supreme Court decision goes into effect immediately with $1,075 the limit for a statewide office, $525 for state senate candidates and $275 for state representatives.

Martin accused Talent of breaking the limit first, causing Holden to follow suit. Martin said Talent had already accepted checks well over $1,075 after the first campaign reports were filed last March.

"My policy has always been two-fold," Talent said. "One is to follow the law as it is, and two is to not take contributions from someone who is expecting something in return."

Talent said he is pleased there is now certainty about how much money can be raised.

Although many statewide candidates accepted money well over the limit, Joe Carroll, director of campaign finance for the Missouri Ethics Commission, said he thinks no steps will be taken to require the excess money be returned.

However, in the Lt. Governor's race Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, said he wants to see candidates return any money received over $1,075 from an individual.

"I feel very strongly now that the courts have ruled on this," Maxwell said. "The Supreme Court agreed that some level of money unduly influences democracy."

Maxwell said approximately $30,000 of his campaign contributions would be returned if the other candidates for lieutenant governor agreed to his proposal.

"Clearly that is a significant amount of money to my campaign, but I'm willing to give it back," he said.

One of his opponents, the Minority Caucus Whip Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, opposed this proposition. He said the money collected was legal and he did not see a reason to return it.

"If Sen. Maxwell really wanted to give the money back, he'd do it," Kenney said. Maxwell stated he would give back the money if the other Lt. Governor candidates did too.

Carroll said the Missouri Ethics Commission will meet today to discuss what should be done for the next election as well as if it should keep its position to not require candidates to return money. The commission also will adjust the limit based on the consumer price index, as it does every even numbered year.