JEFFERSON CITY — When the Missouri Supreme Court considers a challenge Thursday to the state’s campaign finance laws, a ban on fundraising by state politicians during the legislative session will be notably missing.
Legislators last year changed the laws governing how candidates raise money.
The measure removed individual contribution limits, but also barred lawmakers, statewide elected officials and challengers from raising money during the legislative session, which runs annually from early January through mid-May.
A candidate for a state House seat challenged the law, and a Cole County judge in March upheld the removal of contribution limits but tossed out the ban on fundraising during the session.
His decision noted that a federal judge struck down a similar ban in 1996 and said lawmakers in 2006 had not addressed those concerns.
Both sides appealed to the state’s highest court. But the attorney general’s office, defending the state, didn’t challenge the judge’s decision tossing out the legislative-session fund-raising ban.
“The trial court in this case found the blackout period to be unconstitutional, just as the federal court did a decade ago,” John Fougere, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said. “We did not believe that an appeal could be successful in light of those earlier rulings and could in fact detract from our other arguments in defense of this law.”
The Missouri Republican Party filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has a conflict of interest in the case and asking that it be sent back to a lower court judge to be resolved.
The GOP argues that Nixon, who plans to challenge Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in 2008, stands to gain if the legislative-session fundraising ban is not reinstated.
Fougere responded only that Nixon had vigorously defended the law previously.
The GOP argued in its brief that, “As a candidate, the attorney general has an interest in accepting contributions during the legislative session.”
The state’s brief, handled by Assistant Attorney General Alana Barragan-Scott, said the judge acted properly in going no further than striking the ban during session.
“The legislature is presumed to have been aware of the state of the law at the time that it passed the black-out provision,” the attorney general’s office argued, including “the federal court decision striking a virtually identical version.”
The man who sued, James Trout, had argued that by removing the ban, the law should revert to what it was before the bill passed, restoring contribution limits for donations to statewide and legislative candidates.