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Campaign contribution limit proposal defeated in Missouri Senate

Campaign contribution limit proposal defeated in Missouri Senate

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Missouri Senate

The Missouri Senate chamber is a marble war zone. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Senate leadership quashed a last-ditch effort Wednesday to limit campaign contributions and reveal the donors to secretly funded advocacy groups.

While senators debated a proposal that would rein in lobbyist freebies, state Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, proposed two amendments: one that would cap campaign contributions and another that would require disclosure of who cuts big checks to shadowy 501(c)(4) groups.

But soon after Pearce brought up each amendment, state Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis and the assistant majority floor leader, raised points of order, saying the topics didn’t match the subject of the bill, which deals with lobbyist expenditures.

“The amendment … is beyond the scope of the underlying bill,” Onder said of the contributions cap. “The title of the underlying bill is very tight — relating solely to lobbyist expenditures. The amendment offered by the senator is campaign finance limitations.”

“A lobbyist expenditure is a campaign contribution,” said state Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. “Campaign contributions are at the heart of what’s wrong with this building.”

Opposing senators said that the last few days of the session were an inappropriate time to bring up such heavy topics. Pearce and others disagreed.

This year’s legislative session ends Friday.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, decides whether a point of order sticks — essentially killing the amendment — or not, which allows the body to debate an amendment.

In both cases, Richard sided with Onder.

While Onder, Richard and state Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said that the amendment shouldn’t be debated because of the title of the bill, they also voted March 3 against disclosure requirements for 501(c)(4) groups.

At that time, the amendment to another ethics proposal was killed on a 15-15 tie vote, with all three voting “no.”

It may not matter what the Missouri Legislature decides on campaign contribution limits. Last week, supporters of campaign contribution limits told the Associated Press that they turned in 272,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot reimposing limits.

After the two changes were killed Wednesday, state Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, sponsored an amendment that would require 501(c)(4) groups that are politically engaged to have registered lobbyists and to report spending.

“Those people that drive that activity should have a registered lobbyist,” Silvey said.

Senators recessed at 1:30 p.m. after some debate on the amendment. When they came back, senators paused the lobbyist debate and moved on to other bills.

The original proposal, which advanced out of the House in January, was intended to ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. In the legislation’s current form, lobbyists would be allowed to spend up to $40 a day on meals for a lawmaker.

“If this is what it’s going to take to get the strongest gift ban we can through this Legislature, so be it,” said state Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, who added he wished the language were more strict.

While lawmakers said the $40-per-day limit was better than unlimited gifts, Pearce said the core of Missouri’s ethics problems lies with unlimited campaign contributions, as well as groups that don’t have to disclose donors.

“A guy can spend $40 on me for lunch and then give me a check for $1 million,” he said in an interview. “That’s just ludicrous.”

Because the measure changed in the Senate, it will need another vote in the House — if the plan makes it that far.

Other ethics proposals have been approved, including one imposing a “cooling off period” for lawmakers before they get lobbying jobs, another barring lawmakers from being political consultants, and another placing restrictions on how legislators-turned-lobbyists can use their campaign funds.

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