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St. Louis aldermen will again consider limiting campaign contributions

St. Louis aldermen will again consider limiting campaign contributions

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ST. LOUIS • Donations to candidates for city office could not exceed $2,600 under a measure before the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

It’s the second time in recent years city aldermen have sought to cap political contributions. In 2016, they approved a proposal limiting those donations in city elections to $10,000 per cycle.

Now, the city should take a step further, argues sponsoring Alderman Cara Spencer, who thinks city officials should follow suit with a statewide initiative that 70 percent of Missouri voters approved last year, capping contributions to state candidates to $2,600 for individuals and $25,000 to political parties.

“I think the city of St. Louis should be at least as progressive as the state of Missouri, at least as ethical, in moving in that same direction,” said Spencer, who represents the 20th Ward.

Supporters of campaign contribution caps say they allow average citizens to have a greater influence on elections by rendering candidates unable to rely on huge donations from select megadonors. But those who disavow the caps say that donating to a political campaign is a form of free speech and expression and that limits on those donations inhibit those rights.

The stricter limits would be applied to elections for mayor, comptroller, treasurer, collector of revenue, license collector, sheriff, recorder of deeds, the St. Louis school board, the Board of Aldermen and the board’s president.

A similar effort is underway in St. Louis County. Unlike the city proposal, the county measure would be up to voters because it requires a charter change. This month, the St. Louis County Council sent to voters a plan imposing a $2,600 contribution limit for any county office, and restricting contributions from any entities bidding on county contracts. It now heads to County Executive Steve Stenger for approval.

The change itself was aimed at Stenger, who has faced allegations during his term that donors to his campaign receive special treatment by his administration.

Some critics of campaign contribution caps — including several city aldermen who opposed the $10,000 limit in 2016 — argue that limits actually make it harder to know who is having undue influence over city politicians. Determined donors can bypass the rules and funnel money through back channels, critics argue, such as political action committees.

Spencer said city aldermen should consider how many St. Louisans voted for the statewide limit and acknowledge that their constituents don’t want to see political agendas set by powerful donors.

“I think this is a big deal for St. Louis,” she said. “We all like to complain about money controlling politics, and we saw a lot of accusations around the Scottrade and other things, so it’s important we limit how much influence big donors can have in our local elections.”

The measure, Board Bill 35, passed out of committee last week. If it passes the full board, the new limits won’t take effect until May 2019.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter.

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