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Court upholds Mo. law limiting campaign contributions

November 02, 2001
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Friday a Missouri law limiting political party contributions to individual candidates.

The law was originally set to become effective in 1995, but was held up in legal challenges from the Missouri Republican Party.

Lower courts sided with the party, ruling that the state limits were unconstitutional. But earlier this year, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the law. The Supreme Court then sent the case back to the circuit court to write the final opinion in the case of Missouri Republican Party v. Lamb.

"This has been a long fight that has taken us all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the will of the people is now in place," Nixon said.

Missouri Republican Party spokesman Scott Baker said he was disappointed with the decision.

"It's going to change the face of politics in Missouri," Baker said. "The role of the parties is going to change. It's going to tie the hands of parties in trying to help individuals with their campaigns."

Missouri Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Kelley didn't disagree.

"This is going to do what it should do. Candidates will be out in their districts working to represent their constituents," Kelley said.

Baker said the party would consider asking the appeals court to hear the case en banc, requiring all of that court's judges to hear the case instead of just the three that ruled Friday.

Nixon, a Democrat, had a forceful response to that possibility.

"They've been attempting to delay Missouri law for a long time," Nixon said. "It's time they started following Missouri law."

The major issue raised by the appellants in the case was the First Amendment right to free speech.

The circuit court cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year on a Colorado case that held that states have the constitutional right to limit the amount of money a party spends for its own candidate. The Court ruled that contributions to parties were being used as a way of circumventing laws that restrict donations to candidates.

The circuit court, however, noted that the Missouri Republican Party argued vigorously that no evidence exists that would support that notion.

Charles Lamb, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said the commission would have to meet with the Attorney General's office to review today's ruling before making any decision on how to proceed. He did not know when that meeting might take place, he said.

In a July statement, however, the commission said that when the court would permit it, the commission would take action against the law's violators.

The commission said it would notify those people who violated the law during the November 1998 elections, directing them to return the excess money within 10 days. People who were already notified but did not return the money within the allotted time would then be subject to collection proceedings by the Department of Revenue.