Mo. ethics law struck down on free-speech grounds

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri Senate committee is considering legislation that could revive part of a 2010 ethics law struck down last week by a judge.

At issue is a provision that limited the ability of political action committees to shuffle money among other such committees. The bill's wording also barred state-chartered banks from contributing to political action committees.

A Cole County judge ruled March 31 that the restriction on bank contributions violated free-speech rights. The judge also struck down the entire 2010 ethics law because the legislation to which it was attached contained multiple subjects.

Attorney General Chris Koster said he would appeal the decision and wanted the judge to suspend the ruling from taking effect in the meantime.

“Our suggestion is that people continue to follow the law as it was passed until the judgment becomes final,” said Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.

Before the court ruling, the House had passed a bill lifting the ban on bank contributions. A Senate committee planned to consider that bill today. That bill could be expanded to revive other ethics-law provisions.

Besides the provisions about the public reporting of political contributions, the law also gives greater power to Missouri Ethics Commission to launch investigations and creates new crimes related to bribery, obstruction of ethics investigations and lobbyists' failure to report their wining-and-dining expenses for state officials.

Missouri's campaign-finance laws have undergone numerous makeovers in recent years. Legislators in 2006 passed a law repealing the state's campaign-contribution limits, effective in January 2007. But the state Supreme Court struck down that law. Missouri's Republican-led Legislature responded in 2008 by passing a new law repealing contribution limits. That law remains in place.