Government & Politics

Federal judge blocks parts of Missouri law meant to curb influence of money in politics

Missouri Republican Party chairman Todd Graves’ law firm, Graves Garrett LLC, represented the various political entities challenging the restrictions of a new state law.
Missouri Republican Party chairman Todd Graves’ law firm, Graves Garrett LLC, represented the various political entities challenging the restrictions of a new state law.

A federal judge has blocked portions of a constitutional amendment Missouri voters passed in November as a way to limit the influence of money in politics.

The $2,600 campaign contribution limit, which passed with the support of 70 percent of Missouri voters, will remain in place, under the order of Judge Ortrie Smith of the U.S. District Court in Western Missouri.

However, Smith’s order blocks other portions of the new law, including a restriction against donations from foreign corporations and a provision that prohibited transfers between political action committees.

“Essentially, we won on every point except the contribution limits to candidates,” said Todd Graves, the Kansas City attorney who represented the political entities challenging the new law. “This thing now is Swiss cheese,” Graves said in a phone call, explaining that his firm may also pursue a lawsuit in state court to overturn the contribution limits.

The Missouri Ethics Commission, which was represented by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office, argued that transfers between PACs provide a way to circumvent campaign contribution limits and raise the risk of corruption by making it hard to track the source of political donations. However, the judge found that the absolute prohibition on PAC to PAC transfers was unconstitutional.

“While evasion of campaign finance limits is an important interest … absolute prohibition on PAC to PAC transfers is not closely drawn to serve this interest,” the judge wrote.

Graves, who also serves as chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said that he does not think the ruling will lead to more money in Missouri politics or make “it easier to conceal who the actual contributor is.”

Eddie Greim, an attorney with Graves’ firm, said in a statement that the judgment “sends a clear message that a statewide vote cannot trump the freedom of speech.”

The Missouri Democratic Party, however, blasted the ruling and contended that Graves’ involvement in the case was connected to his official party role.

“It’s no wonder the Missouri Republican Party’s Chairman was the chief lawyer fighting to reopen these dark money channels — today’s ruling will make it easier for Eric Greitens and Missouri’s Republican officeholders to continue relying on special interests and billionaires with a pay-to-play agenda to advance policies that benefit big corporations at the expense of working Missourians,” said Missouri Democratic Party chairman Stephen Webber in a statement. “Attorney General Josh Hawley should honor the will of the voters and take immediate legal action to restore these campaign finance rules.”

Hawley’s office said that he was carefully reviewing the ruling.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

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