Businesses Challenge Missouri Donation Limits

(CN) – Two Missouri businesses claim in a federal lawsuit that the state’s new campaign-finance reforms are an unconstitutional burden on their right to free political speech and association.

Farmers State Bank and Herzog Services sued the Missouri Ethics Commission in Western Missouri federal court on Friday, alleging the commission violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by enforcing Amendment 2, the reform bill that voters approved last month.

Other plaintiffs include taxpayer John Elliott, the Free and Fair Election Fund, Missourians for Worker Freedom, Freedom PAC and the American Democracy Alliance.

According to the complaint, Amendment 2 “bans all corporate contributions in ballot measure and judicial retention campaigns, even for nonprofit corporations and even though, as a matter of law, there is no possibility of corruption.”

“It applies identical rules to committees that spend money free of candidate influence and committees that contribute to candidates, even though these two types of committees are constitutionally distinguishable,” the complaint states.

Farmers State Bank and Herzog Services also say Amendment 2 bans contributions “from some business entities, but not others,” and “even makes it a crime for the newly-banned entities to fund a ballot measure to address their injury by fixing Amendment 2.”

According to the 47-page lawsuit, Amendment 2 prevents corporations and unions from supporting committees that support or oppose ballot measures.

The businesses also claim that the amendment’s contribution limit of $2,600 restricts how many candidates a donor can support.

“For example, a donor who gives the maximum to one candidate, but who later changes her mind to support the other candidate, is prohibited from giving anything to the other candidate,” the lawsuit states.

Freedom PAC claims Amendment 2 would impose sanctions that would prevent it from supporting the Free and Fair Election Fund after accepting contributions from the other plaintiffs.

Elliott, a Platte County resident, says the possible sanctions are keeping him from donating to more than one candidate in the 2018 Republican primary race for the office of state auditor.

The amendment’s restrictions could prevent the plaintiffs from pooling their resources to buy expensive political advertising time on television, according to the lawsuit.

“For example, several groups may wish to come together to fund a television ad about a candidate race, but that is not coordinated with either candidate’s campaign,” the complaint states. “If none of the groups have sufficient resources to pay for the entire cost, and they are also prohibited from pooling their contributions to pay for the ad, then the ad will never be aired, and the groups’ speech will be muzzled.”

The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction to stop the ethics commission from enforcing Amendment 2, arguing its restrictions severely burden political speech and association. Attorney Edward Greim of the Kansas City law firm Graves Garrett LLC is representing Elliott and the groups.

The Missouri Ethics Commission declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A hearing in a separate case challenging Amendment 2 is scheduled for Thursday.

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