Missouri ethics reform, redistricting initiative tossed from November ballot by judge

A sweeping ethics reform and redistricting proposal called Clean Missouri that was expected to appear on the state’s November ballot is in jeopardy following a Friday ruling by a Cole County judge.

In May, supporters of Clean Missouri turned in more than 347,000 signatures to place the proposal on the ballot through an initiative petition. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft certified the proposal, along with other ballot initiatives, in August.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ordered Ashcroft rescind the proposal’s certification, taking it off the November ballot. Green ruled the proposed amendment violated a provision in the Missouri Constitution that limits the scope of initiative petitions. Under the provision, a proposal can amend only one article of the constitution. A proposal for a new article can cover only one subject.

Green ruled the proposed amendment violated both rules.

“Instead, as explained below, the twenty or so substantive changes outlined in the petition relate to at least two different and extremely broad purposes: (One), the organization of the General Assembly, and (two), ethics or campaign finance regulation aimed at avoiding misconduct by public officials in multiple branches and levels of government,” the ruling says.

Clean Missouri, which would appear as Amendment 1 on voters’ ballots, included a major redistricting proposal and proposed lowering campaign donation limits, eliminating nearly all lobbyist gifts, requiring legislators and Statehouse staffers to wait two years before taking jobs in lobbying and opening legislative records.

In a statement, Ashcroft said, “The Secretary of State’s Office is thankful that Judge Green made a timely, well-substantiated decision so the people of Missouri have clarity when they go to the polls in November.”

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney for Clean Missouri, said in a statement the campaign would be “appealing immediately.”

“The secretary of state properly certified the measure so that voters may consider the measure, and voters will have their say on November 6,” Hatfield said. “We have always thought that this legal matter would be decided at the Appeals Court level. This is a speed bump, but the law is on our side, the people are on our side, and Amendment 1 will be passed in November to clean up Missouri politics.”

The campaign alerted its supporters via email about the decision, saying Green “sided with lobbyists and special interests who are desperate to keep Amendment 1 off the November ballot.”

“This is a speed bump, but the law is on our side,” the email, signed by campaign manager Sean Soendker Nicholson, says.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry celebrated the decision in a news release. The organization’s president and CEO, Daniel P. Mehan, was one of the plaintiffs in the case. In the release, the chamber said it opposes Clean Missouri because it could shift priorities in the General Assembly, “opening the door to higher taxes and more bureaucratic regulation.”

“The way Amendment 1 is being sold to the public could have deceived many Missouri voters into supporting what appears on the surface to be an effort to improve state government,” Mehan said in the release. “But Missourians need to understand that this is essentially an out-of-state coup attempt. The writers of Amendment 1 drafted their amendment in a way that clearly violated the Missouri Constitution, and we applaud Judge Green’s decision to uphold Missouri’s single subject requirement.”

The Missouri GOP applauded the decision to strike down what it calls “attempts to radically redistrict Missouri to benefit Democrats.”

”From the beginning, Clean Missouri has used the guise of ethics reform and sleek marketing to distract Missourians from their real aim: radically redistricting Missouri to solely benefit liberal Democrats,” the party’s spokesman, Chris Nuelle, said in a statement.

Clean Missouri proposes appointing a nonpartisan expert to draw House and Senate districts that would then be reviewed by a citizen commission to ensure competitiveness. An independent demographer would help create the maps.

Nuelle said the proposal would create non-contiguous districts.

“People in rural districts would be represented by people living in urban districts and vice-versa,” Nuelle said.

In the statement, he also criticized a $250,000 donation Clean Missouri got from MOVE Ballot Fund, a St. Louis based political action committee. Three days before that donation, MOVE Ballot Fund received $300,000 from the Open Society Policy Center, the lobbying arm of liberal billionaire George Soros’ philanthropic network. Before the donation from the Open Society Policy Center, MOVE had only raised $100.