Elections

Missouri proposal to reform ethics laws is back on the ballot after court ruling

Missouri Court of Appeals judge Alok Ahuja (center) questioned attorneys as he and fellow judges Thomas Newton (left) and Rex Gabbert heard arguments Thursday for and against keeping Amendment One on the November ballot.
Missouri Court of Appeals judge Alok Ahuja (center) questioned attorneys as he and fellow judges Thomas Newton (left) and Rex Gabbert heard arguments Thursday for and against keeping Amendment One on the November ballot. kmyers@kcstar.com

Clean Missouri’s sweeping proposal to reform ethics laws and alter the state’s redistricting system was upheld by an appellate court in Kansas City Friday, putting the initiative back on the November ballot.

A three-judge panel of the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals unanimously overruled Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green, who ordered the proposal off the ballot last week. Proponents of Clean Missouri appealed that decision.

Benjamin Singer, communications director for Clean Missouri, issued the following statement:

“We are glad the judges saw through the frivolous arguments of the lobbyists who are terrified of letting Missourians vote on Amendment 1,” Singer said. “Reformers across the political spectrum support cleaning up Missouri politics and will be voting yes this November.”

The ruling comes as local election authorities prepared to send ballots overseas for military voters and as the state started receiving requests for mail-in absentee ballots, but further litigation could be possible.

In a statement issued shortly after the ruling, Daniel Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is suing to remove the initiative from the ballot, said he would appeal the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“We are disappointed in today’s appeals court decision which makes it more likely Missouri voters will have to decide a deceptive, poorly-drafted amendment,” Mehan said. “Today’s decision not only keeps Amendment 1 on the November ballot, it also lowers the bar for the process we use to alter our state constitution.”

The panel ruled Green had erred in deciding Clean Missouri violated a provision of the Missouri Constitution that limits the scope of initiative petitions to amending only one article of the constitution, or proposing a new article covering only one subject. Critics argue Clean Missouri’s proposal to enact ethics reforms for legislators and overhaul the state’s redistricting system covers two subjects and two articles.

Proponents say the ultimate goal is one subject: regulating the Missouri General Assembly.

Clean Missouri, which was placed on the ballot by initiative petition, proposes to lower campaign contribution limits, eliminate nearly all lobbyist gifts, require a cooling period before legislators and their staffers can become lobbyists, and open legislative records. The redistricting proposal would turn the task of drawing legislative district maps over to a nonpartisan expert and reviewed by a citizen commission. A demographer would help create the maps.

The appellate court agreed with proponents of Clean Missouri.

“Construing the initiative petition ‘liberally and non-restrictively,’ we conclude that the petition’s multiple provisions all relate to a single central purpose: regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests,” the ruling says.

Missouri Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles County, a key critic of Clean Missouri, said he was disappointed in the appeals court ruling and said the proposal attempts to deceive Missouri voters by packaging redistricting with popular ethics reform measures.

“I think Clean Missouri is a Trojan horse,” Onder said. “It has a hidden agenda. It needs to be stopped, but I’m very disappointed that the court of appeals refused to follow the law and refused to follow our constitution.”

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