Missouri Supreme Court to hear challenge to campaign rules

Missouri Supreme Court to hear challenge to campaign rules

Allison Retka

State representative hopeful James Trout wants the state Supreme Court to listen favorably this afternoon to his assertion that a Missouri law on campaign finance is unconstitutional.

Trout’s Supreme Court appeal claims the vague language of House Bill 1900 violates the state’s “clear title” laws for legislation. The case is rooted in his strong objection to last session’s changes to campaign fund-raising laws, especially portions that abolished the $354 or $650 individual contribution caps and forbade any fundraising during the January-to-May legislative season.

He argued the measures handicapped new candidates who competed against established incumbents for political seats.

The state’s high court will hear oral arguments on Trout’s case at 1:30 p.m. today.

Meanwhile, the state Republican Committee has taken notice of the case, arguing in an amicus brief that Attorney General Jay Nixon has a conflict of interest in representing the state and its ethics commission in the matter. This is because Nixon himself has already accepted $389,979 in campaign contributions for his expected 2008 run for Missouri governor.

“Attorneys with divided loyalties may not zealously represent their clients and may – subconsciously or overtly – allow their competing interests to affect their trial-strategy decisions,” the group’s Husch & Eppenberger attorneys argued in the brief. “Since he has accepted contributions during the legislative session, he has an interest in – House Bill 1900 being determined to be unconstitutional. Otherwise, he is in violation of the law and could be subjected to regulatory sanctions, monetary penalties or a restitution obligation.”

For this reason, it will be difficult for Nixon to defend the constitutionality of the statute on behalf of the state, the group argued.

Trout, a construction consultant from Webster Groves, is looking to get both the fundraising blackout period and unlimited contribution sections repealed and asks the court to restore the previous contribution limits. The state House and Senate included both elements on a compromise for the bill, so the two sections are inseparable and should both be thrown out, the suit argues.

In 2006, Trout lost a seat in the state House to incumbent Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-Webster Groves, by 249 votes. He plans to run again for the seat next year.

A nonprofit group of state lobbyists also weighed in on Trout’s behalf in an amicus brief, objecting to the entire bill.

Lobbying and campaign finance are different subjects that should not be lumped under the same piece of legislation, the brief said. The group also suggested lobbyists could have been affected by the legislation but did not think it related to them because of bill’s vague title.

The state has maintained the bill’s title is appropriate and adequately addresses the meat of the legislation: ethics pertaining to lobbyists, officials and candidates.

Trout filed his lawsuit Jan 2. Cole County Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan maintained a temporary restraining order against portions of the law until March 28, when he decided the measure did not violate clear title laws.

Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires

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