Attorney General Chris Koster told reporters this week he supports limiting campaign donations in Missouri, but “Citizens United makes it difficult to draft such a policy.”
That isn’t true. And it is deeply worrisome that the state’s lawyer so thoroughly misrepresents that crucial case.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United opinion did not erase limits on campaign contributions. It simply said corporations can independently spend whatever they want on their own political speech.
For the record, that decision was correct. This newspaper, owned by a corporation, is protected by the First Amendment. Other corporations should be allowed to use the same umbrella.
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But the ruling had nothing to do with limiting donations to a specific candidate — by corporations or people. Just this April, the court said contribution caps are “permissible” in the fight against political corruption.
Any claim that Citizens United makes it harder to cap political donations is wrong and cynical. It exploits misunderstanding of the ruling to protect unlimited campaign donations in Missouri.
And unlimited donations are a booming business. Retired businessman Rex Sinquefield gave Koster’s committee $260,000 in 2012. This year, Sinquefield gave governor candidate Catherine Hanaway’s committee $850,000. This week, he gave lieutenant governor candidate Bev Randles’ committee $1 million.
Some state lawmakers are fine with this — they claim campaign donations are protected speech and can’t be limited. If that’s true, though, rules restricting what campaigns and candidates can buy would have to be equally beyond the reach of the law.
If the courts ever agreed to that, Sinquefield or anyone else could write multimillion dollar checks to favored candidates and they could purchase anything they want.
Hey, you might say. That looks a lot like bribery.
Citizens United correctly says Sinquefield is free to spend his millions on his own speech. He can buy a blog or a newspaper. He can purchase broadcast ads and billboards. Fund think tanks and political action committees.
He can rent a soapbox. Fly a plane over Arrowhead. Walk down Broadway wearing a sandwich board.
And Sinquefield knows this. In September, he rented a blimp to help get his message out.
But he should not be allowed to buy politicians. Sadly, such purchases seem increasingly possible in Missouri — and the state’s attorney thinks that’s OK.