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Missouri's Ethics Initiative Off November Ballot; Ruling To Be Appealed

K. Trimble / Wikimedia Commons
A lawsuit filed last week seeks to remove an ethics-related proposal from the November ballot.

Updated Sept. 14, 2018, with court ruling — The wide-ranging initiative petition that would change how Missouri draws its legislative districts and effectively ban lobbyist gifts won't be on the Nov. 6 ballot, a judge ruled Friday.

The Clean Missouri proposed constitutional amendment is "insufficient," a Cole County judge said, because it contains too many subjects. Also, if enacted, the changes would violate the state's constitution, which specifically states that a proposed amendment can't change more than one part of the constitution or can't add more than one new article to the constitution.

The Clean Missouri campaign attorney, Chuck Hatfield, said in a statement that the organization will appeal the ruling to the state Appeals Court, which could restore the measure.

"This is a speed bump, but the law is on our side, the people are on our side," Hatfield said. 

Clean Missouri spokesman Benjamin Singer argued that Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is running for the U.S. Senate in this election, filed a court brief in the case saying the suit's claims "are without merit" and the ballot measure would "promote transparency and accountability in the General Assembly."

The legal challenge was filed last month against the intitiative petition, which would tighten campaign contribution limits, ban lobbyist gifts over $5, require politicians wait two years before becoming lobbyists and change the state's redistricting process.

Edward Greim, a Kansas City-based attorney for one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told St. Louis Public Radio that the decision isn't a surprise and that the proposed constitutional amendment is really about redistricting.

"Even now, they're being smoked out a little bit. And people are talking more about the redistricting and what it means," Greim said. "But the debate is coming a year too late, because they nestled it among all these other provisions."

Secretary of State John Ashcroft was listed as a defendant because he approved the initiative petition's addition to the November ballot; his office had no comment.

Original story from Aug. 6, 2018: 

A lawsuit filed last week is challenging the ethics-changes ballot initiative set to go before Missouri voters in November. 

The lawsuit, filed by Kansas City-based attorney Ed Greim on behalf of state resident Paul Ritter, alleges that the Clean Missouri petition initiative is unconstitutional because it includes too many subjects. 

If passed, the sweeping referendum would tighten campaign contribution limits, ban lobbyist gifts over $5, require politicians wait two years before becoming lobbyists and change the way Missouri draws up legislative districts. 

Greim told KCUR that the measure takes several different ideas and rolled them into a single constitutional amendment, which is prohibited in the state constitution.

“It’s a process called logrolling,” Greim said, “And it’s kind of one of the oldest tricks in the playbook for trying to sneak something through that you think may not have sufficient popular support.”

In this case, Greim says the part proponents are trying to sneak through is the redistricting portion. A similar argument was made late last month by a group of Republicans called Missourians First. Chairman Jim Talent, a former U.S. Senator, said the measure is meant to gerrymander.

Currently, Missouri legislative districts are drawn by two bipartisan commissions. Under the proposal, a nonpartisan expert selected by the state auditor and Senate majority and minority leaders would draw the districts.

Greim successfully defended Missouri’s current congressional districts when they were challenged in 2011. Greim also represented former Gov. Eric Greitens' office while a House committee investigated Greitens for personal and political misconduct. (Greim works for Graves Garrett, a law firm headed by Missouri Republican Party head Todd Graves.)

Greim also said the ban on political fundraising by legislators on state property violates the First Amendment.

Clean Missouri, which touts bipartisan support, issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed, saying it's "a desperate attempt from a few political insiders to protect a corrupt system where legislators take millions in lobbyist gifts while ignoring voters back home.”

The organization directed interview requests to the Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, who is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices. She said the latest development wasn't a surprise. 

“It’s just a disappointing state of affairs but it also reinforces the necessity of having… the kinds of reform that Clean Missouri provides,” Gould said.  

Clean Missouri spokesman Benjamin Singer said he is confident the suit will be dismissed.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
Erica Hunzinger is the news editor for the Kansas News Service.
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