Politics & Government

Missouri ethics law struck down by court because of way it passed

In a unanimous opinion Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a 2010 ethics bill that banned the laundering of donations through campaign committees.

The court said the ethics legislation was added to an unrelated bill dealing with how statewide elected officials contract for purchasing and printing services. That’s unconstitutional, the judges ruled.

One of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Jason Kander, a Kansas City Democrat, said he would refile ethics legislation this week that would restore the ban on committee-to-committee transfers.

That practice caused the laundering of campaign contributions to the point where the public could not tell where some donations wound up, Kander said. That masked the true intent of some campaign donors.

But Kander said he didn’t know how to gauge the bill’s prospects. House Speaker Steve Tilley did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

Meanwhile, some of the questionable campaign practices that the state experienced prior to 2010 could return, Kander warned.

“I am concerned that we will return to a system where really flawed laws allow candidates and parties to operate in the shadows,” he said. “In a busy election cycle, it’s not a good thing to have less transparency.”

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, issued a statement noting that the ruling “leaves a significant hole in Missouri’s ethics laws.” He said that lawmakers “must move quickly to get a strong ethics bill on my desk.

“In the coming days, I will communicate with the General Assembly about the key components that should be in a strong ethics bill, and we must come together to get these vital laws back on the books,” Nixon added.

Kander and Rep. Tim Flook, a Liberty Republican, struggled to pass their sweeping ethics bill in 2010, about the time of published reports that the FBI was investigating former House Speaker Rod Jetton. It wasn’t until the session’s final days that the legislation began to move. Jetton was never charged as a result of that probe.

Kander said he had worried that the bill was vulnerable to a court challenge because the ethics provision had been hastily added to the purchasing provision. “I would say that the process by which the majority party decided to pass this bill at the last minutehad concerned me all along,” he said.

Kander said he filed another comprehensive ethics bill this year that included campaign donation limits. But the bill has not received a hearing or been referred to a committee for consideration.

Missouri remains the only state that allows lawmakers to accept both unlimited lobbyist gifts and unlimited campaign donations, he noted.

To read more, visit www.kansascity.com.