Federal District Court Strikes Down Portions of Missouri Campaign Finance Laws

May 2017

On Friday, May 5, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri entered an order finding several provisions of Missouri’s campaign finance regulations to be unconstitutional. The order takes effect on June 19, and it stems from Free and Fair Election Fund, et al., v. Missouri Ethics Commission, et al., No. 2:16-CV-04332.

On November 8, 2016, Missouri voters approved Amendment 2, a ballot initiative reinstituting state campaign finance limits. The measure amended the Missouri Constitution by adding Section 23 to Article VIII. Plaintiffs in the above-referenced case challenged several aspects of Section 23. The court agreed with plaintiffs on some of their challenges.

First, the court overturned restrictions on corporate or union contributions to campaign committees whose sole purpose is supporting or opposing ballot initiatives. Once the order takes effect, corporations and labor unions are permitted to donate to such initiatives from their operating accounts and without limitations.

Second, the outright ban on contributions to Missouri political action committees (PAC) by businesses not formed under Chapters 347 through 360 of Missouri’s revised statutes was found unconstitutional. Consequently, rural electric cooperatives and banking entities will be permitted to contribute to PACs when the order takes effect.

Also, the ban on PAC to PAC contributions was found to be unconstitutional. The court stated that such an absolute prohibition was not closely drawn to serve the interest of preventing candidate corruption or the appearance of such corruption, since PACs were not affiliated with individual candidates.

Several provisions of Amendment 2 were upheld. Specifically, individual donation limits to state candidates remain in place. In addition, a ban on direct corporate and labor donations to state candidates is still law. Local and county-level candidates remain exempt from the donation limits of Amendment 2. Individuals and labor organizations may contribute unlimited amounts to local candidates. Also, an LLC that files as a partnership is permitted to donate any amount to local candidates.

An appeal of the order is expected. Please contact Lewis Rice if you have questions or require additional information.