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Contribution limits, tobacco tax increase gain enough signatures to appear on Missouri ballot

The Missouri secretary of state’s office officially certified four initiative petitions Tuesday morning, attesting that enough valid signatures of registered Missouri voters were gathered to qualify for the ballot.
The Missouri secretary of state’s office officially certified four initiative petitions Tuesday morning, attesting that enough valid signatures of registered Missouri voters were gathered to qualify for the ballot. File photo by The Star

Initiative petitions to reinstate campaign contribution limits and increase the tax on tobacco were certified Tuesday to appear on Missouri’s November ballot.

The Missouri secretary of state’s office officially certified four initiative petitions, attesting that enough valid signatures of registered Missouri voters were gathered to qualify for the ballot.

In addition to campaign contributions and a pair of tobacco tax increases, an initiative petition prohibiting new sales taxes on services was also certified.

A fifth, which would legalize medical marijuana in Missouri, did not collect enough signatures. Supporters of that initiative petition have said they will file a lawsuit to try to place the issue on the November ballot, arguing that some signatures were ruled invalid that should have been counted.

And just because the secretary of state has certified the initiative petitions doesn’t mean they will appear on the ballot. A lawsuit seeks to keep the tobacco tax increase to fund early childhood education off the ballot, and another is targeting campaign contribution limits.

But getting certified by the secretary of state is a major hurdle each initiative petition has now cleared.

The effort to reinstall contribution limits is being bankrolled by Fred Sauer, a Republican investor from the St. Louis suburbs. His proposal would amend the state’s constitution to cap contributions to statewide candidates at $2,600. It also seeks to ban political committees from obscuring the source of their money, a tactic that’s become more prevalent in recent years.

Voters imposed campaign contribution limits on Missouri candidates back in 1994. The limits survived court challenges that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Republican-dominated General Assembly voted to repeal them in 2008.

Since then, six-figure contributions have become the norm. A handful of seven-figure checks have gone to candidates, including a $1.9 million donation to GOP gubernatorial hopeful Eric Greitens from a federal PAC that won’t have to disclose where its money came from until October.

Rex Sinquefield, a Republican from St. Louis, has donated more than $45 million to various candidates and campaigns since 2008.

A nonprofit called Raise Your Hand for Kids is backing an initiative petition that would amend the state constitution to gradually raise the 17-cents-per-pack tobacco tax, the lowest in the nation, by 60 cents and use the new money to pay for early childhood education and preventive health programs.

Raise Your Hand for Kids is funded by the parent company of R.J. Reynolds tobacco.

Opponents of the proposal sued earlier this year, saying the ballot summary written by Secretary of State Jason Kander was inadequate. The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District agreed, and in July the court rewrote the summary. A new lawsuit argues that the signatures that were gathered should be thrown out because the summary was rewritten.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, a group funded by value-brand cigarette companies, is pushing a tobacco tax increase of its own. It hopes voters will raise the tobacco tax 23 cents and use the new money to fund road and bridge repair.

The measure contains a rollback provision that would undo the 23-cent tax increase if another tobacco tax hike is placed on the ballot in the future.

If both the early childhood and transportation tobacco tax increases are passed by the voters, both would go into effect. Missourians rejected tobacco tax increases in 2002, 2006 and 2012.

The Missouri Association of Realtors is bankrolling a constitutional amendment that would prohibit state and local governments from imposing new sales or use taxes on all services, ranging from professional and home services to personal and family services.

State and local governments could not impose a sales or use tax on any “service or activity” that was not subject to such a tax on Jan. 1, 2015. The move is seen as an attempt to thwart efforts by Sinquefield to eliminate the state’s income tax and replace it with a higher sales tax, an idea he’s championed for years.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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