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Missouri campaign contribution limit amendment one step closer to ballot

Fred Sauer’s effort to let Missouri voters decide whether to reinstate campaign contribution limits got a boost Thursday when a Cole County judge rejected a lawsuit opposing the push.
Fred Sauer’s effort to let Missouri voters decide whether to reinstate campaign contribution limits got a boost Thursday when a Cole County judge rejected a lawsuit opposing the push.

Fred Sauer’s push to reinstate campaign contribution limits in Missouri has never been taken very seriously by the state’s political class.

The longtime anti-abortion advocate and businessman from the St. Louis suburbs has been floating the idea for years and has poured millions of his personal fortune into the idea. Yet he never gained much traction.

But now, Sauer’s on the precipice of finally putting the issue before Missouri voters.

The organization he’s bankrolling, Returning Government to the People, submitted more than 272,000 petition signatures this summer to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The inevitable lawsuit by opponents quickly followed, but a Cole County judge on Thursday rejected the lawsuit and called for the issue to go before voters.

An appeal is expected, but Sauer celebrated the decision.

“Campaign contribution limits are in the best interest of everyone in the state, both citizen and legislator,” Sauer said in a statement. “By reducing the extraordinary rivers of cash flowing from wealthy donors into Jefferson City, the (proposed amendment) will better assure that our government is truly representative of the people, and in turn provide an environment in which freedom and the will of the people can flourish.”

The measure would cap donations to candidates at $2,600 per election and to political parties at $25,000. The initiative also would impose other campaign finance restrictions aimed at preventing political committees from obscuring the source of their money.

In November 1994, 74 percent of Missouri voters approved a ballot measure limiting contributions to state candidates. The Republican-dominated General Assembly repealed contribution limits in 2008, which at the time stood at $1,350 for statewide candidates, $675 for Senate candidates and $325 for House candidates.

Since the repeal, six- and seven-figure donations have become a regular occurrence in Missouri politics. One donor in particular — retired investor Rex Sinquefield — has doled out more than $45 million in contributions to various candidates and campaigns since 2008.

The lawsuit challenging Sauer’s proposal, brought by the Missouri Electric Cooperatives and Legends Bank, argued it would violate free-speech rights because it prohibits contributions to political action committees from state-chartered banks, utilities and foreign corporations.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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