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GOP donor gives $1 million to fight new Missouri abortion law, sues Secretary of State

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A prolific GOP donor and Joplin businessman has contributed $1 million to fight a new Missouri law that criminalizes abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy and has sued the Missouri Secretary of State for rejecting a referendum application that seeks to put the law before the voters in 2020.

David Humphreys, CEO of TAMKO Building Products, is so far the sole donor to the Committee to Protect the Rights of Victims of Rape & Incest, which was formed May 30. He retained attorney Lowell Pearson to file two referendum applications the next day.

Both Humphreys and the committee are listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Friday in Cole County Circuit Court seeking to reverse Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s decision to reject one of the applications.

They have requested a hearing for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction for as as early as Tuesday.

“We are requesting immediate relief from the Cole County Circuit Court to allow our petition to proceed, which will let Missouri voters decide this monumental public policy issue (House Bill 126),” Humphreys said in a statement. “Our campaign began to ensure women and underage minors who are the victims of rape and incest are protected. This is a significant step forward in the fight to protect those who have already been victimized by rape or incest. We are committed to that goal.”

The day before Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed what was then House Bill 126, Humphreys had publicly asked Parson to veto the bill. He specifically noted the law had no exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

“While I am personally opposed to abortion, I do support a woman’s right to choose, particularly in the case of rape or incest,” Humphreys said in a statement at the time. “And I have to believe that the politicians in Jeff City that voted for this bill would themselves support their wives or daughters’ right to choose if their loved ones were raped.”

Humphreys has often made headlines for bankrolling Republican causes and candidates, though his position on abortion is at odds with the candidates he has supported in the past. Since 2015, he and his family have poured more than $15 million into Missouri politics.

Friday’s $1 million personal contribution matches a $1 million check last year to the House Republican Campaign Committee, which focuses on electing GOP candidates for the Missouri House. He also sent a $1 million to Josh Hawley’s 2016 attorney general campaign.

Prior to Parson’s signature, Humphreys promised to financially support a referendum in the effort to overturn the law. In order to get on the ballot, backers need to collect at least 100,000 signatures before Aug. 28, which can be costly endeavor. Contributions can also be used for legal expenses.

But first the referendum applications needed to approved by the Secretary of State’s Office before it can be circulated for signatures.

Ashcroft told reporters in a Thursday press conference he rejected Pearson’s referendum application and a similar one submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri because both challenged a portion of the law—requiring some minors to notify two parents before getting an abortion—already in effect under an emergency clause. The ACLU filed its lawsuit Thursday.

According to Ashcroft, the emergency clause triggered a provision in the state constitution that says the people’s right to challenge a law by referendum is limited in instances where “laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace” and “healthy or safety.”

Ashcroft, who anticipated legal action, said the courts will have to make the final determination.

“The Secretary of State’s Office does not have the ability to decide whether an emergency clause is truly an emergency,” he said.

Ashcroft said the Pearson’s second referendum application is still under review. It does not challenge the section of the law under an emergency clause.

The lawsuit filed by Humphreys’ attorneys Friday argued that Ashcroft incorrectly applied the process as to how to reject a referendum application.

Missouri law dictates that the Secretary of State and the Attorney General can only reject a referendum due to “form,” or issues with the ballot language. Ashcroft, the lawsuit noted, said he “did not reject these referendum petitions as to form.”

It also noted that there was no evidence that the Attorney General’s Office had reviewed the referendum. The Secretary of State’s legal counsel told their attorneys there were no responsive records between the two offices regarding the referendum in response to a request made shortly after Ashcroft’s announcement.

Noting their roles in the referendum approval process, the lawsuit named both Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Auditor Nicole Galloway were named as defendants, along with Ashcroft.

When The Kansas City Star asked if the Attorney General’s Office had completed its review of the referendums before Ashcroft rejected them, spokesman Chris Nuelle said a comment could only provided the next day. On Friday, Nuelle provided two letters sent from Ashcroft’s office that day asking to withdraw the referendums.

The Auditor’s Office, which is responsible for providing fiscal notes for the referendum, said it had not finished its review before Ashcroft’s rejection.

“Auditor Galloway has consistently expressed a deep concern about efforts to stifle the voice of the people on ballot initiatives,” her office said in a statement. “She disagrees with this latest attempt to limit the power of Missourians to have their voices heard. Auditor Galloway is fighting to uphold citizens’ constitutional rights to hold Jefferson City accountable through the referendum process.”

This story was updated to include information about Humphreys’ lawsuit.

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.
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