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Holden, Nixon accept $3 million over legal limit

February 07, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Since running for governor, the top two contenders have raised approximately $3 million in single-check contributions above on-again off-again $1,125 legal limit.

Thousand dollar donations from all across the United States have flooded into the pockets of State Treasurer Bob Holden and Congressman Jim Talent before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the limit and allowed the state to resume enforcement.

Spokesmen for both Holden and Talent said neither candidate will return funds in excess of the limit.

"We do exactly what the law requires," said Richard Martin, campaign manager of Holden for President. "No more, no less."

Missouri voters decided on a referendum in 1994 to place maximum amounts on how much a political candidate can receive.

Shrink Missouri Government political action committee sued Attorney General Jay Nixon in 1997 saying the limits violated a person's free speech. While waiting for the lawsuit to be decided, it was not illegal for candidates to accept contributions over the limit.

Despite the Supreme Court decision, opponents have not given up their legal fight.

Bevis Schock, treasurer for Shrink Missouri Government, argues until the high court hands a decision to the lower courts, nothing is absolute. He said even though it is a longshot, the Supreme Court may change its ruling.

"We are disappointed with the ruling and we agree with the dissent," Schock said. "Under the law, the Supreme Court opinion isn't final yet."

Since the decision, several agencies have conflicting dates on when the law should take affect. Nixon said it should begin 9 a.m. on Jan. 24, the Ethics Commission said 9 a.m. Jan. 28, and Shrink Missouri Government believes it should be Feb. 18.

The February date would be 25 days after the Supreme Court voiced its opinion. Schock said that is the normal amount of time the court waits until issuing a mandate.

Although a definite date has not been set, candidates who continue to take contributions over the limit could be sued by state prosecutors, said Joe Carroll, director of campaign finance for the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Martin said Talent started taking contributions over the limit first, causing Holden to also accept over $1,125 to stay competitive.

"We abide by the Supreme Court ruling as they defined the campaign finance law and how it is interpreted by the Supreme Court," said Steve Borris, spokesman for the Talent campaign.

The Jan. 24 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ended the legality of candidates to accept any amount of money from individuals or organizations. Adjusted for inflation, statewide candidates can now accept a maximum $1,125, state Senate candidates $550 and state Representatives $275.

Despite Holden and Talent refusing to return excess funds, two candidates for lieutenant governor have decided to write refund checks.

Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, has returned close to $23,000 accepted over the limit.

Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield, also has refunded contributions. She said she returned $2,050 to approximately nine people.

"It was never my intent to blatantly go against the intent of the law," Backer said.

She said she never accepted single-contribution checks above the stipulated limits, rather the refunded money was the cumulative total over the entire campaign race.

Minority Caucus Whip Rep. Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, another lieutenant governor candidate has decided not to return money he raised in excess of the limit.

Kenney said the money raised was legal and he saw no reason to return amounts over the limit.