Most of the millions of dollars in donations Republican Eric Greitens and Democrat Chris Koster have raked in for their gubernatorial race would be banned under a proposal on the Missouri ballot, an Associated Press analysis shows.
The measure, known as Amendment 2, would change the state constitution to reinstate campaign contributions.
Although Missouri allows unlimited political giving, the amendment would impose inflation-adjusted limits of $2,600 to candidates or $25,000 to political parties each primary and general election, if voters approve it on Nov. 8.
Attorney Todd Jones, who drafted the amendment, said the goal of the Missouri proposal is to stop donors from writing candidates six-figure checks, which has occurred repeatedly in this year’s gubernatorial election.
An independent analysis of advertising spending by the Center for Public Integrity found Missouri’s race for governor so far has been the most expensive in the nation.
“Whose call are you going to take?” Jones asked. “Are you going to take the call of the donor, or are you going to take the call of Joe Smith, your constituent, first? Obviously, it’s going to be the donor.”
Greitens, a former Navy Seal, received close to $16.5 million in donations of more than $2,600 through the end of September, based on most recent campaign finance reports. That means those larger donations make up about 95 percent of what he has raised the entire election.
At a campaign event in Jefferson City on Friday, Greitens did not directly say whether he supports limits on campaign contributions.
He said more important issues are banning lobbyist gifts to elected officials, closing the revolving door of lawmakers leaving office and becoming lobbyists, and enacting term limits for every statewide officeholder.
“Once we do those things and establish a culture of ethics here in the state of Missouri, I’d be happy to sit down with people and look at how we reform the campaign finance system,” Greitens said.
One of his largest donations, a check for close to $2 million given weeks before the competitive Republican primary in August, came from a mysterious super PAC whose donors remain unknown.
Since the primary, he has received record-breaking, multimillion-dollar donations from the Republican Governors Association.
About $17.8 million, or 80 percent, of Koster’s more than $22 million raised this election cycle was in larger checks that would be banned under the proposal. His largest single donation has been a $1 million check from the Democratic Governors Association in September.
Koster, who is the attorney general, voted for repealing campaign contribution limits when he served in the state Senate. He announced he supports the proposal to reinstate caps a week after the August primary.
Koster, during an event Thursday in Kansas City, did not directly answer a question on why he has continued to accept donations as large as six figures after disavowing unlimited political giving.
But he said the “amount of money that’s coming into state politics is too high and not a good thing for state politics.”
He said the increasing price tag of the governor’s race “makes regular Missourians feel disconnected from the political process, disconnected from their government leaders, and I would like to do something to stop that trend.”
Limits on political giving historically have fared well among Missouri voters.
In November 1994, 74 percent of Missouri voters approved a ballot measure limiting contributions to state candidates. The limits were struck down in court, and higher limits the Legislature had passed that year instead took effect.
Lawmakers, including Koster, voted in 2006 to repeal campaign contribution limits, although the measure later was struck down on procedural grounds by the Missouri Supreme Court. When limits were in place, a report at the time found Koster’s campaign staff helped donors channel money through political committees to give higher amounts to support his bid for attorney general.
Lawmakers cited Koster’s campaign when they repealed caps on contributions in 2008, arguing they didn’t effectively limit political giving. Koster, then a Democrat, also was among lawmakers who supported repealing contribution limits that year.
Since then, wealthy donors have frequently given five- and six-figure checks to Missouri candidates.
But big money is needed in the current political climate to spread campaigns’ messages through the media, said Ryan Johnson, president of individual-liberties advocacy group Missouri Alliance for Freedom.
“By limiting campaign donations, the government will, effectually, be limiting the amount of speech citizens can engage in,” Johnson said in a statement. “It is wrong.”
A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case struck down aggregate limits on individuals’ total donations in federal elections. Limits on spending per state campaign still are in place in 38 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A court challenge is likely if the Missouri proposal is approved.
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